Sunday, July 19, 2009

4th of July in George Iowa, part 2: The Pie Auction

The Pie Auction

What could be more small town and quaint than a pie auction? I had visions of the Andy Griffith Show in my head. Some dear old Aunt Bee laboring over her peach pie but being beat out by the hot new spinster teacher in town so the men banding together to purchase Auntie Bee's pie for an inflated price. I had big plans to purchase a rhubarb pie in honor of my Dad who loved rhubarb pie above everything. It was going to be one of the highlights of the 4th of July weekend in the Midwest.

The George, Iowa pie auction was held behind the elementary school by the baseball field right after a musical performance and before the fireworks. There was a small amusement park set up in the parking lot with a ring toss and bingo. You could buy ice cream and popcorn at the concessions stand. I arrived with my sister and my cousin Catherine prepared to bid for a pie.

Imagine my shock and horror to learn that the opening bid for these 109 home made pies was $100! The first pie went for almost $300!!!! This was no small town Southern sleepy pie auction. These Iowa farmers were rich! They auctioned 109 pies with the cheapest one going for $125. And they auctioned them like a true hog auction complete with fast talking auctioneer, spotters, and a loudspeaker placed somewhere over my head. It went on for at least an hour and a half. I couldn't even get in on the action for what sounded like a gross pie - sour cream and raisin. That one still was out of my range at $125.

I realized I had been laboring under a misconception of what small towns were like. Being rural and being a farmer does not necessarily mean being poor, I have learned. Years of living in the south and being subjected to "we're going to lose the family farm" movies form Hollywood lead me to believe that in the midst of the economic crisis that was to be rivaling the Great Depression that a small town pie auction to support the school would be an affordable deal. I know that George, Iowa suffered greatly during the last Great Depression. Signs in the museum spoke about "one of the many single men who drifted into town searching for work" and my father spoke about times being lean. But with the age of government subsidies for farms and a heavy reliance on genetically modified seeds, modern technology, and intense fertilizer - the Iowa farm looks mighty prosperous compared to the meager efforts I've seen in South America, Africa, and Asia.

So while in many ways, the 4th of July celebrations in Iowa were as stereotypical and patriotic and fun as I had expected, I learned an important lesson thanks to the pie auction. I think I may now be opposed to farming subsidies for US farmers.

I suppose I was struck deaf by the garbled loudspeaker next to my ears at the pie auction. My cousin Linda has informed me that the video shows the pie being auctioned at $50. It was hard to keep track as 109 pies were auctioned and I was just anxiously awaiting the fireworks. But the first pie and several others did go for $300. Most of the purchasers were local businesses.

For those who feel that I maligned the good people of George, Iowa by saying how surprised I was that the town was prosperous, I apologize. I very much enjoyed my visit to George and found very pleasant people there. I was surprised at the wealth in a town of about 1000 people but I invite you to compare and contrast it to the farm towns that I've visited in South Carolina where grinding poverty is a visible way of life. The recession has hit my hometowns of Columbia and Sumter, SC hard and the effect is visible with for sale signs and foreclosure signs all over town and the line around the Salvation Army stretched around the block.

As for not supporting farm subsidies - I also invite me to send me info to educate me to your point of view. While the analogy of the pie auction and the wealth of the US farmer may be a clumsy one, I'm still not sure that farm subsidies are the way to go. Feel free to post links in the comments section.


  1. Anonymous3:42 AM

    Hi, Sara,
    I think you were a bit unfair to the good citizens of George and their annual pie auction. From the city’s web site: “If you have never attended the Fourth of July Pie Auction in George, it is an event in itself. The pie auction is one of the major sources of funding for all of the activities and fireworks in George on July 4th.” The purpose of the people and companies that bought the pies this year was to pay for the festivities that everyone enjoyed for free, such as the concert and the fireworks (which were stellar for a town of this size.)

    By the way, your video of the pie auction shows that the starting bid for the pies was $25, not $100, with the pie shown in your video selling for $50. There may be all sorts of reasons to not be an advocate for farm subsidies, but I hardly think that the way that George chose to finance its July 4 festivities is one of them.

    Much love,
    Your cousin Linda

  2. Thanks Linda, I updated the post to reflect your corrections. The fireworks were indeed spectacular. I'll be posting some photos of them later.

    Love, Sarah