LANCASTER COUNTY, Pa. (WHTM) — Spring mud sales are a tradition in Lancaster County, as well as an important fundraiser for local fire companies. This year, many of them have been altered or canceled due to COVID-19.
What is a mud sale?
A mud sale is a series of simultaneous auctions held at a local fire company as a fundraiser for the company. Fire companies usually work closely with Amish community members to put on the sales, explains Joel Cliff, director of communications for Discover Lancaster.
“The mud sale is unique to Lancaster County, Pennsylvania,” says Cliff.
Most mud sales take place between February and April, before spring planting begins and when individuals working in agriculture — particularly individuals in the Amish community — aren’t as busy, Cliff says.
These events got the name “mud sales” because having so many people trampling around in a field in the spring when the ground may be damp from rain or melting snow creates a lot of mud. “They’re not kidding. Bring boots,” says Cliff.
The Strasburg Fire Company has been holding mud sales for more than four decades. On Wednesday the week of the mud sale, community members begin bringing items for consignment, says Scott Weichler, deputy fire chief of the Strasburg Fire Company. These goods include Amish-made quilts and crafts, farm equipment, buggies, antiques and more.
Some places offer everything but the kitchen sink, but Cliff says mud sales feature everything including the kitchen sink. And “I’ve seen plenty of them,” Cliff says.
On Friday during a normal mud sale season, the Strasburg Fire Company begins auctioning off crafts and smaller quilt items, says Weichler. (This is a recent addition at the Strasburg Fire Company and not necessarily something done at all mud sales.)
Then on Saturday, the main auctions start around 8 a.m. and continue until 4 or 5 in the evening, Weichler explains. At a typical mud sale, “You’ll have a sale going on with quilts. You’ll have another sale going on — whether it’s the exact same time or it might start a half hour or 60 minutes later — on furniture. Others will be selling antiques,” describes Cliff.
Cliff says that the great prices guests can get at the mud sales are one draw, and another is the food.
“[People] look forward to the food for sure,” says Weichler. “They know how good our soup is. It is very, very good.” The Strasburg Fire Company’s chicken corn soup is popular with guests, Weichler says.
Another reason visitors may enjoy the mud sales is the opportunity they provide to interact with others and to get to know members of Lancaster’s Amish community, says Cliff.
COVID-19 necessitates changes for 2021 mud sales
As COVID-19 continues to make large gatherings unsafe, this year’s mud sale season is kicking off with cancellations. The Strasburg Fire Company is one of several companies calling off their sale in 2021. Their 47th Annual Spring Mud Sale would have taken place this weekend.
“We erred on the side of caution and decided it was the best thing to do for the health and safety of the community…but certainly not in the best financial interest of the company,” says Weichler.
Weichler explains that as a volunteer fire company, Strasburg Fire Company gets the majority of its funding from donations, and the mud sale usually provides about a third of the company’s operating budget for the year.
“Because it’s the main fundraiser annually for these fire companies, it’s hard. They’ve already gone through one year last year where many were canceled or scaled-down,” says Cliff.
Although it will not provide the same amount of revenue, Strasburg Fire Company will still be selling food to raise money this year, Weichler says. The company will hold a chicken corn soup and chicken barbeque drive-thru on Saturday, Feb. 27 from 10 a.m. until the food is gone.
Cliff says that this year, some sites, like Strasburg Fire Company, are holding food fundraisers instead of their typical full-blown mud sales.
Others are adapting the mud sales to virtual or hybrid formats. West Earl Fire Rescue is one location opting for this method.
Some companies are canceling their mud sales altogether, while others are choosing to hold the events in person following COVID-19 safety protocols. For example, the Gordonville Fire Company will only be holding auctions outdoors during its in-person March 13th mud sale.
Discover Lancaster’s website has more information about this season’s mud sales.