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An illustration of brightly colored panels showing a shovel, tomatoes, multi-colored eggs, ears of corn, cucumbers, a sunflower, a crate full of produce, blueberries, beans, a cash box that says “Pay Here,” and a chalkboard sign that says “Thank you for your honesty.”

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Where Trust Grows Alongside Produce

How farmers in Northern California are using the honor system to sell fresh produce at their farm stands 

 “I had passed this sign dozens of times.” [On a green sign: “Farm Stand: 51st x West.”] “One day, I finally stopped.”
“Just west of the 24 and MLK there it was. Crates of fruits, veg, flowers, and teas were on bright display. But apart from the produce, there were no other signs of life.”
“This is one of three stands run by Anders Olson, who leases 15 acres of farmland in Penngrove. [Superimposed over an illustration of the state of California, a yellow sign that reads “Farm stand, 8am - 8pm, fresh picked daily from Sonoma county; tell a friend.”]
“Olson’s Oakland stand, along with the other two, are completely self-serve. That includes payments.” [Pinned to a folding chair is a sign reading “Self-serve farm stand; there is no cashier/stand attendant.” Next to it, above a black cash box, is a sign that says “Cash in black box below.” Below the box is a sign that provides information on how to pay, such as via Paypal and Venmo.]
“People have told me that they never thought this could be possible to do in Oakland,” Olson says. [Below the quote are two tables laden with produce for sale.]
“There can be a lot of pressure on this street,” he adds. “But this is a place that’s safe. It’s a refuge for families — a daily trip. And there’s no one surveilling you. It’s giving people stability and sanity in a world where sometimes that’s difficult.” [Around the quote are illustrations of flowers, fruit, and vegetables.]
“Honor stands, or farm stands that rely on the honor system, are scattered throughout northern California’s farmland. Some are tucked away in residential neighborhoods, like Table Top Farm in Point Reyes Station.” [The illustration shows the farm stand with a sign advertising the produce for sale.]
“Cindy Simms, a hobby farmer, sells her chickens’ surplus outside her Pescadero home. She’s saving the proceeds to supplement her grandchildren’s college fund.” [Next to the quote, a sign advertising “Fresh eggs, $7 a dozen,” along with a blue cooler full of eggs and a ziploc bag full of cash.]
“Yvonne Quiring, a homesteader in Petaluma, sells seed starts in front of her home.” [Below are illustrations of Armenian cucumbers, yellow zucchini, and butter lettuce, along with a black cash box and a sign advertising the farm stand’s days, hours, and produce menu.]
“I had no idea what to expect. In the beginning, I thought it would be like a little kid’s lemonade stand. It was a surprise to discover how popular it would become. Customers are unfailingly generous, honest, and kind.”
“Other outfits, like Swanton Berry Farm in Davenport, have operated for decades.” [Below the quote is a sign that reads “Swanton Berry Farm is the first unionized organic farm in the U.S.A. Your support helps us provide health benefits and a living wage to all our workers.” Below it is an illustration of a cash box, boxes of berries, a calculator, and a sign announcing that “tips are split evenly between all workers.”]
“Or Gospel Flat Farm in Bolinas.” [A sign reads: “Welcome to Gospel Flat Farmstand. This is the honor system. We grow fabulous organic produce 24 hours a day. Select your items, add up your purpose, use the scale if necessary. Here’s how to pay. Checks: make out to Farmstand. Venmo is great! We prefer over Paypal. Credit card: go to our website. Paypal: please add 30 cents plus 3% or switch to Venmo.”]
“For Randy Goldstein, founder of Live Oak Farm, the honor system is something of a necessity.” “We started the honor till in the first year, both as an outlet for the produce and for the benefit of the community to have fresh, local, organic food. But there is no way that we could afford to staff the farm stand, hence the honor system.” [Next to the quote, illustrations showing cash, a white box for small bills and big bills, a calculator, and ledger where you can log your total.]
“Molly Meyerson of Little Wing Farm shared similar sentiments. As a small-business owner, Meyerson wears many hats: Farmer, carpenter, plumber, and mechanic. Sales is one job she’s happy to assign to the produce.” [A yellow sign next to the quote reads: Little Wing Farm.]
“Meyerson sees her farmstand as an alternative economy.” “Being trusted around money and goods isn’t common in this world.” “In the four years Little Wing Farm has been in business, there have been two acts of vandalism.” [Next to the text, a sign reads “Cash goes here. We accept cash or check. We do not accept I.O.U.s, Venmo, foreign currency, or garbage. Thank you!!”]
“As expected, some people are honest and generous. And others feel like it’s ok to cheat a small business,” says Catherine Clark of Petaluma’s Tenfold Farms.” [Below the quote is an illustration of the farmstand.]

“Word of mouth and social media have made a world of difference for Clark’s business. “I am so touched and grateful that people like my offerings and enjoy their experience well enough to share it.” [Next to the quote are illustrated tomatoes and zucchini; below it is an illustration of a smart phone displaying Tenfold Farmstand’s Instagram page.]
“I’m a one-person operation mainly because my business doesn’t bring in enough revenue to pay for an employee,” adds Clark. “Consider for a moment how many 50-cent zucchinis or one-dollar heirloom tomatoes it takes to make a car payment or a monthly rent payment, let alone a living wage.” [Surrounding the quote are illustrations of zucchini and tomatoes.]

Bri is an Oakland-based writer and illustrator.


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