SOUTH FORK — Spring may be a week away by the calendar, but it had already arrived Saturday along South Fork Creek in southern Casey County’s Mennonite country.
A horse-drawn buggy, running a bit late, clip-clopped along South Fork Road as morning sunlight danced atop the riffles of the clear, flowing creek. Cars and trucks caught behind the buggy created a countrified traffic jam en route to the third annual Spring Consignment Sale put on by Casey County Produce Auction.
“It’s just a good day for everyone to be out,” declared Norman Nolt from beneath his tight-brimmed black hat.
Many people were indeed out, buying and selling everything from chickens to onion bulbs to chain saws to lumber to slightly used Tonka Toys to homemade baked goods.
“They sell everything from a duck to a truck,” said Steve Fox, owner of First Choice Auction Co. in Liberty, which oversees several Mennonite-hosted sales a year.
Casey County Auction Produce holds auctions throughout the year, offering everything from flowers in the spring to locally grown produce in summer to firewood and hay in the winter.
Saturday’s event marked the beginning of the new season and is one of two big consignment auctions — the other is in October — when just about anything goes. Everyone is invited to bring whatever they want to sell, with a 10 percent commission going to the produce auction for its troubles.
“It’s open to anyone who wants to buy or sell,” explained Nolt, a member of the committee elected by local Mennonites to run the auctions. “We reserve the right to refuse anything, like old tires that have no value. And, of course, we don’t want guns. Or dogs or cats.”
Though the event has a distinctively Mennonite flavor, it is conducted at a big-city pace. Three or four auctions might be happening at once, and items for sale are hustled along like hot potatoes — bid quick or it’s gone.
“C’mon, get that stuff up here or we’ll be here all day,” barked auctioneer Matt Murphy, who was working the main general merchandise auction under the covered pavilion.
Over at the poultry and small animal wagon, the auctioneer peppered his quick calls with funny stories.
“Got two little guinea pigs here. They used to tell me if you pick them up by their tails, their eyes would fall out,” he said. “Of course, they ain’t got no tails, so I guess that’s the trick.”
The critters were gone in 30 seconds for two bucks.
Along with commerce, the spring sale is also a social event that allows Mennonites and folks from outside their community to mingle and observe each other. Food, from chili dogs to chicken legs, is available, lending the sale a county fair atmosphere.
“I always come to the auctions, mostly to visit,” said Dorcis Martin of South Fork, who was there with young sons Nolan, 19 months, and Randall, 3 months.
Dean Morgan, a farmer and truck driver who lives near Liberty, said he frequents the South Fork auctions.
“You’re looking for a bargain and you can find anything you want,” Morgan said. “And it’s kind of like the Apple Festival — you run up on people you haven’t seen in a while.”
Fox, the auctioneer, said the sometimes shy and private Mennonites let their guard down a bit at the sales.
“They’re here performing a service for the community and themselves, so they’re willing to present themselves a little more because they’re making money,” Fox observed.
Nolt said such consignment sales are a long-standing tradition among Mennonite and Amish communities. They are held each spring and fall “when the farmwork is slacking,” he said.
The Casey County Produce Auction started up three years ago and has proven so successful, the committee built the new pavilion and offices last year from proceeds they have raised.
“This was our plan, to hold the auctions to make enough money to build this facility,” he said. “It’s to benefit the whole community.”
Sheila Perry of Stearns travels to the auctions regularly, for enjoyment and to make a little money.
“I rarely miss a sale once they start. I know I’ll be here for the plant sale on April 6,” Perry said. “I buy wholesale here and then take it back and sell it resale.”
Erica Keeney of Nancy in Pulaski County brought her Florida friend Dorothy Venis to check out Saturday’s sale.
“We come all the time,” Keeney said. “We enjoy the atmosphere and we usually end up buying some produce or farm supplies.”