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Roseville poultry auction remains a cultural nexus

By: Scott Thomas Anderson, Editor
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There is no scene like it anywhere in Roseville — even during a maelstrom.

On Sunday, Dec. 2, Carol Edwards stood under a rusty, tin corrugated roof that sheltered the animal pens — an old barn shield with four wooden posts holding it and not one wall to block the hard, driving rain. She looked out at the maddening downpour — the worst storm in 15 years of hosting the Roseville Poultry Auction — and wondered if this would finally be the day when no one showed up with their shaking crates of talons and feathers.

But within an hour, trucks began maneuvering around the flooded streets and falling curtains of water, straight up to the edge of the pens — and to a bi-monthly event that represents one of Roseville’s most diverse cultural melting pots.

Held in a parking lot at the intersection of Church and Atkinson streets, directly across from Denios, the Roseville Poultry Auction started as part of the Producers Auction, which operated in the city since before the 1940s. In 1985, Producers stopped running the auction and it simply became known as the Roseville Livestock Auction, though it was held on the same property, now owned by Denios.

“How that all transpired, I can’t remember,” Edwards said. “But I ended up running the poultry part of the auction. When the livestock auction closed a few years ago, I asked Ken Denio if we could keep the poultry auction going, and he agreed.”

Edwards and her husband, Bob, own a ranch outside of Marysville. She had worked at the Producers Auction since 1978. Now at the helm of this version, Edwards set out to make sure families involved with regional agriculture and small yard farmers had a good market to sell their birds.

Changing demographics in Sacramento and Placer counties have only given the Roseville Poultry Auction a steady rise in interest. People of Hispanic, Portuguese, Asian, Russian, Armenian, Nigerian and Fijian decent all flock to the auction, as well as other ethnicities. The region’s Hmong community represents one of the most diehard groups of buyers. Auctioneer Joe Marchese has developed a special rapport with the Hmong and other groups that frequent the auction. After working with them for 15 years, he understands why the bi-monthly sale means so much.

“As far as the diversity of people we get, it comes down to traditional ways of life,” Marchese said. “Many of the customers here like to prepare meals from live animals. Some of them don’t like, or trust, buying meat from stores. I’ve also learned that there’s different holiday ceremonies in their cultures that require different birds to be prepared at different times of the year.”

On Sunday, Dec. 2, the range of animals being hauled into the pens through the blustery storm included quails, hens, roosters, ducks, guinea pigs and goats. As the rain pelted down, the rickety shelter and pens began to take on the look of Noah’s Ark. The drenched bidders were diverse as the livestock, some dressed in cowboy hats and heavy ranch coats while others wore loose sweats and beanies. Most entered the auction with metal cages and wooden boxes to put live animals in for transport home. At 9:30 a.m., Marchese started the bidding, walking from cage to cage with his pointer stick as the group of buyers followed him, placing their bids.          

Dennis Hanna, an area farmer, wasn’t surprised that more than 30 buyers braved the torrential weather. Hanna has been selling poultry at the auction for nearly 40 years and knows what to expect.

“It’s a good place to get rid of birds,” Hanna said. “I don’t have to worry about taking any home, because I know they are going to sell one way or the other.”

During the spring and summer months, the poultry auction has as many as 1,200 animals being sold on any given Sunday, and buyers from as far away as Nevada and Oregon. It was stories of such spectacles that prompted Gary Tan of Sacramento to make his very first visit.

“I heard about it through word of mouth,” he said. “I have friends who talk about how much poultry is here. I buy chickens for my hobby — I collect birds and exotic birds. The weather wasn’t going to stop me.”

Song Fang of Roseville has also made her way through the watery streets.

“My husband likes fresh chicken and duck,” Song said. “We prepare it ourselves on special occasions, and my husband’s brother is leaving, so we wanted to take a look. My kids also like to try to spot potential pets.”

By the time the bidding was over, most of the animals had been sold.

“Given that we’ve never seen a downpour like this before during that auction, today was pretty amazing, truthfully,” Edwards said. “But you have to remember, for some of the customers, this is their main source of food.”

Scott Thomas Anderson can be reached at scotta@goldcountrymedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at ScottA_RsvPT.