Oct. 23, 2007
By Janelle Huelsman
Ohio University's recent support of the Chesterhill Produce Auction in southern Morgan County not only helped improve campus food quality, but injected new life into the once-struggling auction.
Owned and operated by Jean Konkle, the twice-weekly auction supports local farm operations. Produce is auctioned on Mondays and Thursdays to individuals and merchants who seek fresh, locally grown goods that are high in quality and low in price.
Among the latest patrons is Ohio University, which purchased a portion of its produce from the auction from August through early October.
Konkle considered closing the auction when it began to struggle this summer. That's when Rural Action, a local nonprofit that helped her launch the operation, stepped in.
Bob Fedyski of Rural Action contacted Matt Rapposelli, the university's executive chef, to see if the auction could meet some of his produce needs. "They (Ohio University) are the biggest single market in the region, so it made sense to come to Matt first," Fedyski said.
Rapposelli -- eager to find ways to improve food quality while supporting the local economy and environment -- was receptive.
"First and foremost, the quality is far superior (to commercial sources), and the prices are very good," Rapposelli said. "Also, being able to help the local economy is great."
Rapposelli said he has already been approached by a variety of local growers asking what Ohio University needs and what crops they should cultivate for the auction next year.
"The best part is we made great contacts," Rapposelli said. "I suspect we'll be able to increase the volume that we purchase (next year)."
Since Ohio University began participating, more buyers have frequented the auction.
"Having Ohio University there is letting people know we have quality food," Konkle said, adding that she expects the auction's popularity and growth to continue next year.
The auction, which just ended its third year, will run from April to November in 2008.
Konkle, who moved to the region from Highland County, Ohio, said the lack of such an offering nearby and her desire to help the area prompted her to start the auction. She immediately sold an old building she had planned to use as an antique store, borrowed money on her farm and purchased 10 acres of land for the auction.
"With the excitement of knowing there were going to be families helped in the area, I couldn't sleep," she said.
In addition to Ohio University, buyers include local restaurants, farmers markets and area residents, including many senior citizens.