Food auction & more at Amish Mud Sale
From where I stood under a tent in the shade out of the sun, I could see tables of brown cardboard boxes under another tent not too far away. They were different from what I’d normally see at an auction and much unlike the small items on the tables where I stood.
Curious, I braved the sun, walked up a slight incline to the other tent, and spotted food in fabric bags and boxes on the ground next to rows of people – mostly women – seated in chairs. The auctioneer had just finished selling packages of chewing gum (10 to a pack), and bidders were holding up their fingers to show how many packages they wanted to buy.
I had ventured into a food auction. I’ve been to auctions where food and cleaning products from someone’s house were offered but never to one that solely sold food. I had heard of food auctions before. They’ve been going on for a couple years and tend to draw folks looking for bargains they may not find in their local grocery store.
This auction was one of several in play on the grounds of the Kinzer Fire Co. in Lancaster County, PA. Amish auctioneers were selling all sorts of things – from plants to construction equipment to Amish buggies to homespun crafts and quilts to tools to the usual box lots of stuff.
Inside the fire hall, Amish women (with the Ladies Auxiliary, I presumed) were selling Whoopee pies, breakfast sandwiches, hot soft pretzels (delicious!), barbecued pork sandwiches, hotdogs and more. Outside, a farmer offered homemade root beer in small and large bottles in a tub of ice and water, along with cantaloupes, beets, tomatoes, peaches, watermelons and jars of preserves, including a horseradish spread he was offering on a cracker as a sample.
Under another tent, a group of women were baking donuts and covering them in vanilla crème.
These events are called Mud Sales, named for what the ground turns into after it thaws in early spring. The ground may have been muddy when the sales season opened in February, but by August, the only slog was the muggy moisture in the air. Last Saturday, the sun was mercilessly hot and the ground was mercifully dry.
Mud sales are held each year from late winter to fall to raise money for volunteer fire companies in the area. The merchandise for sale is donated or consigned items from local businesses. Even the auctioneers donate their services, according to the 2013 Mud Sale Guide.
They have been around since the mid-1960s and were said to have begun as a way for farmers to buy equipment. Now, they are a series of auctions on the grounds of fire companies that draw thousands of people. The sales start around 8:30 in the morning and go all day.
I first learned of them a couple years ago when the travel blogger for my former We Are Black Women network wrote about a weekend trip to several mud sales.
I drove to Lancaster County over the weekend with two friends to check out two mud sales, the second of which seemed close to winding down because we arrived later in the day. Still laid out on the grass, though, was a large assortment of new kitchen cabinet doors. Near the parking lot, we were careful to avoid a pile of horse droppings (just as we had done at one spot at Kinzer and on the roadway between the two locations).
Getting to the second one, we drove along curving roads and rolling hills with beautiful fields of corn, giant yellow leaves of tobacco plants (I didn’t know tobacco was grown in Pennsylvania), silos, homes and verdant fields. My friend Kristin wondered if we were in Amish neighborhoods. Rebecca, my auction pal, suggested that we were because many of the homes did not have electrical wires emanating from them.
The view and atmosphere in this place was relaxing, quiet and so peaceful. It seemed so far removed from the tragic and horrific incident that happened seven years ago in Nickel Mines – about three miles away – when a gunman opened fire in an Amish school, killing five girls and wounding five others before killing himself.
Back at the Kinzer site, many Amish children were helping their parents or walking the grounds at the mud sale. I watched as Amish girls walked bare feet on the grass and concrete, some so close together that they could have been sharing secrets. An Amish boy dutifully placed whole potatoes on a machine that sliced them into even strips for the fresh French fries being sold.
At the food auction, a young male auctioneer in a straw hat, who looked the age of a teenager, talked in the rapid-fire cadence of auctioneers as he peddled non-perishable food and paper products in original unopened packages.
Brawny paper towels and Northern bathroom tissue, Vanity Fair napkins, peanut butter, paper dinner plates, packages of face towels, trash bags. People had stocked up on boxes of Shurfine crackers and cookies, Wheat Thin crackers, work gloves, and Tasteeos and Spooners cereal (I’d never heard of them). I also spotted products with a name I recognized: the Walmart house brand Great Value.
When the bidding on an item ended, the auctioneer and his assistant watched like hawks over the crowd, pointing out people who had their fingers raised for the number of packages they wanted. And those hands were raised quickly and often.
One woman asked about the expiration date on an item. “July,” an auctioneer assistant said. A month past the sell date shouldn’t be too bad for a non-perishable item, I suppose. In fact, “sell by” or “best if used by” dates refer to when an item is at its highest quality, but it is still edible after that. Here’s a Real Simple magazine list of products and how long you can keep them in the pantry or refrigerator.
For some of the items, the prices didn’t seem much cheaper than what I’d find in my grocery store (except that you didn’t need one of those insufferable store cards to get the discount).
Someone bid up the Angel Soft and Northern Quilted toilet paper – 24 double rolls – to $6 and $8 each. Those prices, though, sounded so low that I was almost tempted to raise my fingers for a couple packages.
A double pack of Vanity Fair napkins went for $4 each. A small pack of paper plates, $5. A 160-count pack of paper plates, $7. A box of tissues, 50 cents.
I wondered how those prices compared with what some grocery stores were charging. Checking one grocery store’s circular for the toilet paper, I found 12 double rolls of Northern priced at $12.99. So the auction price for the 24 double was a bargain.
Soon, I wandered off and ended up back at the vintage auction until I saw a handful of Amish men and boys gathered around some buggies and wagons. From what I could hear, the auction wasn’t going too well and no one seemed to be bidding. By the time I walked over, the auctioneer and potential bidders were scattering. The signs on the buggies noted that they were both new and rebuilt, with reupholstered seats and sturdy features that were necessary to brave the elements.