Ohio"s 60,000 Amish residents have a relatively small but important stake in the state"s vegetable industry, according to industry participants.
"Up in northeast Ohio, they"re fairly substantial," said Todd Michael, vice president of Urbana, Ohio-based vegetable grower-shipper Urbana Farms.
The Farmers Produce Auction, Mount Hope, Ohio, provides an marketing venue for Amish vegetables, Michael said.
"That has given them enough mass that buyers can pretty much get what they want," Michael said.
The Amish provide competitive product, said Joe Degaetano, manager of Miles Farmers Market, Solon, Ohio.
"The quality is very good," he said.
Big role locally
Jim Mullet, manager of Farmers Produce Auction, Milesburg, Ohio, said Amish growers are a comparative drop in the bucket in relation to Ohio"s vegetable production as a whole, but they play a big role locally.
He said about 80-90 Amish growers bring their vegetables to his auction house.
"For us locally here, they grow the bulk of it," Mullet said, adding that his auction house handles around $3 million worth of sweet corn, tomatoes, peppers, onions, squash, cucumbers, greens and other vegetables each year.
The nature of the product the auction handles lends itself to Amish production methods, Mullet said.
"It"s not stuff that can be harvested with a mechanical harvester. It"s a lot of hand labor," he said.
Buyers who show up at the auctions are many and varied, Mullet said.
"There are grocery stores, a lot of farm markets, wholesalers, chain stores," he said.
Some of them show up looking specifically for Amish-grown vegetables.
"The ones from Cincinnati will definitely market what they buy as Amish-grown," he said.
Auctions run year-round, going four days a week from June through September and twice a week the rest of the year, Mullet said.
Some buyers show up looking for specific Amish growers, Mullet said.
"We have some guys that have tomatoes, and if the buyers hear his number they know exactly what he"s going to have, and they"ll pay top dollar for it without looking at it, Mullet said.
There are generally no Amish cooperatives that pool groups of families" products at the auction house, Mullet said.
"Each family does their own, individually," he said.
Audits and food safety
Food safety regulations are tightening, and Amish growers are facing potential hurdles in meeting all standards, Mullet said.
"So far, we have not done any audits, but we have meetings once a month here at the auction and food safety is one thing we cover," he said.
He added that the U.S. Department of Agriculture "has no idea about the Amish" and their need for animals in the field for harvesting.
Mullet said Amish growers are doing what they can to make sure their unique requirements don"t step on regulations.
"I think they"ve done everything, and we can trace everything," Mullet said.
Other growers say they recognize the role that Amish growers play in the state"s vegetable deal.