Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Dayton, Virginia: Dennis and Mildred Showalter, Shenandoah Produce Auction

Mildred Showalter stepped out onto her front porch to greet us and I was struck, just as I was the first time I met her a few days prior, with how strong her arms looked. A beautiful Old-Order Mennonite woman with a big smile and perfectly white teeth in her late 40's or early 50's who has raised 5 biological children and 30 odd foster children. The arms peeking out from the ruffled sleeves of her simple homemade dress have picked up and comforted a lot of babies, and it shows.

Mildred runs the family plant nursery with her daughters and they have waves of white and purple pansies at the moment, though the season has peaked and the greenhouses are nothing like they were a few weeks ago. Her husband Dennis runs the relatively new produce auction in Dayton and dairy farms along with 2 of their sons. The third son has a mulch business that fits in wonderfully with the nursery.

The produce auction has been very successful, providing a new outlet for local farmers (many of them also Old-Order Mennonites). The dairy business has been stressful the past few years, as evidenced by many of our recent conversations about low and fluctuating milk prices, and some farmers welcome the chance to develop niche vegetable crops, such as tomatoes, melons, or squash, to offset their dairy costs and diversify their farms. Sometimes the buyers are individuals looking for a bushel of something for canning, but most of the sales of fruit, veggies, and flowers go to larger clients such as local supermarkets and stores in the cities of surrounding states.

The Showalters talk about how farming has allowed them to spend time with their kids as they were growing up and tighten the bond of their family. Trav and I could see the family pulling together at the produce auction with Dennis helping the last of the buyers load up their goods while Mildred and the girls served anyone with $5 and an appetite a plate of burgers, fries, salad, beans and key lime pie, all the while dodging around her latest 2 foster babies asleep in their bouncy chairs on the floor. At their request we did not photograph them, but they did permit us to take pictures of their place.


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