Upgrade at The Block convenient for produce buyers, sellers

Auctioneer Robert Short orchestrates the bidding on bins of watermelons at the Laurel Farmers’ Auction Market. Among the prospective buyers: at right, Troy Hall Jr. and Troy Hall Sr., owners of T & T Produce in Williamsville. Delaware State News/Glenn Rolfe

LAUREL — Delmarva’s produce season is in full swing at one of the oldest auction markets in the Mid-Atlantic region.

Sellers and buyers of fresh fruits and vegetables are converging six days a week — Monday through Saturday — at the Laurel Farmers’ Auction Market.

“We were coming up a couple three times a week. Now, we just come up on Saturdays,” said Troy Hall Sr., who with son Troy Jr., operate T & T Produce LLL, a fruit and vegetable store in Williamsville between Selbyville and Fenwick Island. “Actually, we both have fulltime jobs also. Mainly we come up on Saturdays to get some of the odd-ball stuff that we cannot grow, or the stuff we sell a lot of.”

Since 1940, Laurel’s auction market locally known as “The Block” has been famous for quantity and quality of Delaware and Maryland fresh produce.

Tom Holston, in his first year as auction market manager, says it has been a good season thus far, even with the recent heat wave.

“It started out pretty good. I mean it’s still good,” Mr. Holston said. “People aren’t shopping at produce stands that much the last few days, so of course the produce stands don’t need to buy as much because they are not going through it. And then with the heat, it’s still hard on the farmers too out there trying to pick. It’s hard on crops and people. And heat lessens the shelf life.”

Squash, zucchini and cucumbers were popular in mid-June when the market opened.

“But now we’re kind of merging over into the watermelons, cantaloupe, the tomatoes are starting to come on, peppers, and corn of course,” Mr. Holston said. “We get a lot of other stuff, too. Wednesdays and Fridays are our biggest days, but also on those days we have a few people that go to Pennsylvania auctions that they have on Tuesday and Thursday. So, they are bringing down a whole different variety of stuff; cauliflower, broccoli, peaches …”

Potential buyers line up as Robert Short leads the bidding for produce during the July 20 Laurel Farmers’ Auction Market.

T & T Produce has operated a stand for about two years at 39027 Muskrat Town Road near SR 54.

“Before that we were selling off a wagon. My son started probably 15 years ago. It just kept expanding,” said Mr. Hall Sr. “We grow our own squash and cukes …. we sell so many tomatoes and watermelons that we just purchase those.”

Scores of melons are trucked from fields to market in “wagons” converted from old yellow school buses.

“You see one of them you know you are in Delaware or close to it,” Mr. Holston said.

Typically, the Laurel auction market is busiest during the Delaware/Maryland watermelon harvest, when more than two million watermelons may be sold to buyers large and small from all over the eastern U.S. and Canada.

This year, The Block opened June 26. Auctions begin at 9 a.m. Robert Short auctioneered the July 20 bidding.

Traditionally, the market is open until the second Friday in October. It will remain on a six-day-a-week schedule through Saturday of Labor Day weekend.

Melons and lopes are among the “hot” produce currently rolling into the Laurel Farmers’ Auction Market.

“That will be our last six days a week,” Mr. Holston said.

For decades, farmers brought their produce and lined to pass through the truck lanes. Several years ago, that gave way to a spacious, floored, covered, open-air pavilion, which offers convenience for growers and buyers. Additionally, the market process is completely mobile and computerized.

Raymond White of White Clover Farm on Nanticoke Road near Salisbury has been coming to the Laurel market for many years. He likes the new pavilion set-up.

“Fifteen years ago, you had pickups waiting in the lines,” Mr. White said. “This is all nice.”

“I think them a lot of them like the convenience of it,” said Mr. Holston. “They don’t have to sit in line anymore. They can just bring it up and drop it off and go do whatever else it is they have to do for the day. So, the convenience is a real big help to them.”

The auction market can handle any size of produce, from a single box to an 18-wheel tractor trailer.

The market’s cut from a sale is six percent, paid by the seller.

Like many across much of the United States, Mr. Hall was hoping for a refreshing break from the triple-digit heat wave.

“The big thing right now is the heat. Your cantaloupes and stuff, once they get real, real ripe they just don’t last as long,” he said. “It’s very hard on everything. Once you put it on your stand, it will wilt. It doesn’t take long for it to soften. We’ve got a walk-in cooler where we store stuff, but still once you put it on that stand it has got to sell within a certain amount of time or it’s going to go bad.”

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