Note: For this post I will write the first part in the singular form, as I think going between “I” and “we” will be confusing. However, this has been a joint effort between my friend and I. It isn’t that I’m taking all the credit for the work and such. I just don’t want to confuse all my readers.
I talked about how I started going to the produce auction and getting produce for my family at mostly wholesale prices. One thing I quickly realized is that I was able to get much more than my family was able to eat.
24 count box of cucumbers. My family could probably use enough to warrant buying this, even given the loss of a few of them. However, they usually sold them is stacks of 3 or 4. So, 72 or 96 cucumbers were just a bit more than we could use before they started going bad. (It would have been a great deal if everyone in the household had been willing to eat a cucumber or two with all 3 meals for two weeks and cucumbers only for lunch. That actually would have lowered the grocery bill considerably. However, I think I would have had a mutiny on my hands.)
There were a few solutions.
- Find someone at the auction willing to sell you a box from a stack they just bought. Sometimes this worked, but not always. It helps if you know the person or have formed some kind of relationship with them. If it is another individual there to buy for themselves then they may sell it to you. If it is someone buying for their store, or several stores, then you will probably be out of luck.
- Take a friend or two along. Not only would you be able to split the price you end up paying at the end of the day. Also, neither of you will end up paying for stuff that will only go bad before you can get to it. That is not a way to save money.
- Give it away. There were several times when I took boxes of stuff to church, let everyone know it was there, and told them all that I really didn’t want to take it home with me. I even went as far as handing out plastics grocery sacks so they could carry more.
- Sell it. Check with your appropriate local offices before setting something up. The last thing you want is for them to come take down your set-up because it is not allowed to be there. Or, worse perhaps, send you a fine for not having the appropriate permit.
I had so much extra produce that it was going bad before I could use it. I tried to give it away at church, but there are only so many green peppers people need. I decided to put out a table with my extra produce and offer it to those passing by. Once my garden, and my friend’s, starting producing more we were able to add items that were more than our families needed. As time has gone by, I’ve also gotten better at starting seeds and was able to put out some of my own garden plant seedlings this year.
There are several ways to do a produce stand. You need to figure out what works for you.
- Will your stand stay out all the time or is it something you will put out in the morning and bring in at night?
- Will you be close by to help everyone who stops by or make it more of a self-serve setup?
- Is this something you want to do at your home or elsewhere?
- How about going to farmers’ markets?
- Do you want to do it all season or just during specific produce’s harvest times (watermelons, tomatoes, corn, etc.)?
- Are you going to offer things besides produce? Plants, artwork for the yard, things to go in the garden (trellises, pots, compost, etc.)
I decided that didn’t really fit my lifestyle to be outside with the stand all day, every day, so I chose to do more of a self-service setup. Others have done this too, which is where I got the idea that it was possible. Every morning I put out the stand, put out a money container (I do empty this during the day if I see someone stop by with money or if I notice items gone), add price signs, then go about my day. Just before dark, or whenever is the best time of me, the stand gets brought back up to the house. I think if the house was further from where I have the stand, putting it on a wagon would work well. If I wasn’t able to actually see the stand, this would make me more nervous. However, because it is right in front of my house, I feel I am better able to use this method.
Farmers’ Markets are something I tried for a few years. It was fun but ended up not being worth it for me. (Read more here and here.) Perhaps if there weren’t little ones I had to keep an eye on while doing it, this would be a different story.
I have not added extras to the stand, as in non-produce/plant items. I thought about doing this at the Farmers’ Market this year, but then opted to not do the market at all. I hope to one day have enough worms, for composting, to sell. At this time, I am just trying to keep them alive. They are. I checked just yesterday.
Now, to follow a rabbit trail.
There is always a point or two during the season that I start to question my sanity in this. Then something happens and I get renewed energy to keep going.
There was one time each of the past two summers where it was obvious someone had stopped by, yet no money was in the box. We had not been having problems with this, so it was always a big blow to us. More so because it wasn’t just a quarter or two. Usually it was several dollars worth of stuff. However, we would keep putting the stand out and just hope it didn’t happen again. We would put it out a bit later in the mornings and bring it in earlier in the evenings, all while keeping a closer eye on it.
A few days later, someone would be knocking on my door; usually an older lady. “I stopped by your stand a few days ago and got some produce. I didn’t have enough money on me and am from out of town. So I came by today to give you the rest of it. Here you go.” It would have been so easy for the person to not have stopped back by. My faith in our community was renewed.
Or, the latest example. This happened this past week, actually. Items on the stand had not been selling. I was tired of putting it out and bringing it in with no results. Nothing. “Why do I keep doing this? Perhaps I’m just not meant to do it this year?” Yup. The “Oh woe is me” was going full blast in my head. Then a note was left in the money box. “beets?” was all it said. Now, if you remember a few weeks back was also when I had been canning up all the beets. All 7 pecks. It was actually put into the box on the last day of canning … when I had the last peck’s worth sitting in the pot, with no water over them yet. The person had not come up to the door to ask. I didn’t see it till after I started cooking the beets.
I was able to get beets a few days later and added the sign to the table. “We have BEETS. Ask inside by knocking on the door.” Due to the heat, beets would not last more than a few hours outside without becoming icky and inedible. One day. Two days. (It was at this point I realized how silly the wording sounded, so I crossed off the last half.) Three days went by with nothing. Then another note was left in the box. “I REALLY want beets. I’ll be back tomorrow between 9 and 10 to see. Thanks.” Again, this customer had not come to the door, otherwise I could have told them I had beets on my kitchen counter. I was starting to get a bit annoyed.
The next morning, I was sitting on my porch talking to my friend and getting ready to put out the stand. A van slowed down as it approached my house. It was the customer who was wanting the beets. We took them down, talked to her and got to know her a bit. Turns out, she has arthritis and can no longer garden like she used to.
“This stand is a blessing. Thank you all so much for doing this. I love to come by and see what produce you have. You both are a God send. When I get up in the mornings to take my pain medicine I always say a prayer for you and this stand. Thank you.”
That is when I realized my attitude had been completely wrong and self-centered. There were other things going on in life and I let that affect my attitude about this situation. Instead of being annoyed, I came away refreshed from the encounter and ready to take on the day.
I will keep the stand going as I have come to realize something about my produce stand. There is more to it than me making money. My neighbors are also being blessed by it. Yes, I could try to charge a lot more in the hopes of selling and making a larger profit. That is not why I originally started it and not why I keep it going. Yes, it is nice to get money back from it. No, I do not plan on getting rich. It is a way to make a little extra money, in addition to paying for the items from the auction. However, it is also a way to offer fresh produce to those around us that is cheaper than the stores, usually, and fresher. We may not have the best selection around, but try to keep what we do have fresh and affordable. This is why I keep doing it.