Over the years we have been selling eggs, veggies and assorted produce, mainly through word of mouth to a small customer network. As the traffic on our quiet rural road has steadily increased due to the creation of a park nearby, we decided to build a roadside farm stand this year.
To get inspired I didn’t have to go far, I just had to take a look around my rural Saanich neighbourhood. It’s the height of the growing season and the roads are dotted with farm stands bursting with flowers and produce. I wondered if the stands perhaps reflect a little about the personality of the farmers? There is such a wide variety of shapes and sizes, from a little table and hand written sign to much more robust structures decorated with art and rusted farm implements.
No need for Pinterest on this venture, there were so many great farm stand ideas to be found nearby along Old West Saanich Road and in the Blenkinsop Valley. My husband created a functional little stand using wood we could scavenge from left over projects around our place. One of the things that we spent some time figuring out was the cash box. When you sell your produce at the stand, there is a self-serve system of payment that I have heard referred to as the “honour box”.
The honour box system is a style of doing business that has been adopted and used widely by local farms. It is a arrangement that is built on trust. Most stands sit at the end of the farm driveway along the road. They post their prices and customers deposit their payment into some sort of cash box at the stand. It is very convenient for the grower and the customer. It allows the farm stand to be open 24 hours so customers can come and go as they please and the grower can spend their time attending to their crops.
As we worked to figure out a cash box that would be simple but secure, it had me wondering how the honour box system was working for local farmers? So I started to ask around. What I heard was heartening. Yes theft happens, either people not paying the full amount or trying to take the whole cash box. “There is always a few bad eggs out there,” one producer told me “but for the most part its been working fine”. I learned that the main thing is to have a metal box that is securely screwed down with a solid lock. Also its important to empty it regularly so as not to lead temptation.
In talking to folks about the honor system there was a sense of pride in using it; I heard from my neighbour that in some ways it feels like it restores people’s faith in each other. “Knowing that someone values what I do for them is rewarding. I feel the customers are putting a lot of trust in me to sell them good food, that is handled properly, is safe and of high quality. In return I am trusting them to value what has been provided and to pay for what they take”.
I even heard of a farm stand that has a cash box on the Gulf Islands with no lock on it that is full of money. “It is just stuffed with money,” said my source in wonder, “and the community just keeps putting more money in to see how full it can get.” That is pretty awesome.
Heather Stretch of Saanich Organics says that it works well for her, “It is very flexible system that works well for both my customers as they can come and shop whenever they want, and it’s efficient for me as its not financially viable to be at the stand all day.” Heather also said that she notices that some customers who might not have enough cash with them when they come by will come back on the following day and complete their payment. She said that there was one time when many people had their cash boxes broken into, and that it was the same person, they knew who it was and the police arrested him. She explains that her customers value what she does and know that it is her livelihood. She deeply appreciates that the majority of customers understand that and pay honestly.
It has only been a few weeks since we started our honour box system at the farm stand and I am happy to report that we have had good results so far. The only theft I have seen is from a few deer getting into the bags of translucent apples, I guess they were too inviting to resist!
So keep some cash on hand, have a meander down our leafy rural roads and you will be amazed at the bounty you will find. Remember, it’s on your honour.
Linda Geggie is the executive director with the Capital Region Food and Agriculture Initiatives Roundtable and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.