Dec 292015
 

first 2013 produce stand

This past year was harder than I had anticipated.  Though I will further explore that statement later, I want to talk about one aspect in particular relating to this past year – the street-side produce stand.

Since 2009 I have put a small stand out in front of the house.  It started with extra produce which was more than I could give away at church.  The idea was to charge less than Small Town Grocery, who is expensive and has a poor selection,  but enough to cover my gardening costs.  I was not in it to get rich.

Over time I have come to realize how much my neighbors appreciate the close availability of fresh produce.  The working mom across the street would send her kids over for peppers to make with supper.  The assisted living residents would stop by for a tomato or a hanging basket of begonias, as those were one of the few plants able to grow in the limited light of their apartments. Someone canning and needing just a few more tomatoes knew were to stop. The family with only a few dollars to spend on fresh produce could make their money go further.  The neighbor across the street bought me out of bedding plants to complete her yard work.  The mail carrier needing a few things, but no time to run into the store after work.  As time went on, I began to get a feel for the community, realizing what a blessing this was for people.  That is one thing I would remember when I needed the extra energy to keep it going.

(Side note: my husband recently shared with me that at least one person stopped and bought from the stand assuming we needed the money. “Why else would someone do it?”, they reasoned. )

cart of produce auction hay tomato apples

The stand was started before we became foster parents, before the loss of my husband’s father, before the loss of someone close to me to suicide, and before other trials in our lives. It was one of the things I would do to keep my sanity in times of otherwise emotional chaos.

Over time, my friendship with my neighbor grew due to the time we spent on gardening related activities, including running this stand together.  Without her, I am not sure I could have seen it through that first summer with George and Jack.  The following year she had some major medical issues that kept her from gardening at all, let alone helping with the stand. I was able to pick up things and still help her family have some of the fresh produce they had now grown used to during the summers.

processing tomatoes for spaghetti sauce dinning room table

Having the produce stand has also resulted in some unintended opportunities.  It has allowed my neighbor-friend to realize another area of need outside of our community that provides better income on a more consistent basis, during the summers, with not a lot of extra effort.  I too have begun noticing other areas of opportunity and have had the confidence to try them.

When this past Spring was approaching I knew I had to say “no” to more things in my life due to new priorities.  It was going to be for a season, but it was still hard to accept. The produce stand had become so second nature I was not sure I could stop. It had become a part of who I was. “My house is the one with the produce stand out front,” was often how I explained to people where I lived. It had also started taking up more of my time and mental energy.

My biggest worry was how to share this with my neighbor-friend. My second thought was for those who had relied on the stand as a source of affordable fresh produce.

When I shared my conclusion with my friend, her reaction was a sense of relief. Not at all the reaction I was expecting.  She too had been trying to figure out the words to use to say that she could not do the produce stand this year.  Her family responsibilities were going to be increasing, taking up more of her time. We both had been worried about letting the other down when in reality it was not the right season for either of us.

large white pumpkin at stand

As Spring turned into Summer I had several people ask about the produce stand. While they were disappointed, I assured them it would be for a season, not permanent.

It was the right decision. As Summer went along, it was very obvious I could not have done it all. I did not want to do it all.  While we missed the extra cash flow, it was not something we were relying upon to make ends meet.

I did not even need it as a source of extra produce to preserve, as that was something else to which I had said “no”. It helped that I had canned a lot of extra the past 2 years, enough to see us through on several different items.

What started out as an act of desperation when I had begun to feel overwhelmed, ended up being a very healthy thing. It allowed me to step back, re-evaluate if this was something I wanted to keep doing, to spend my time on, or something I needed to let someone else take over. (Several other gardeners had begun doing the same thing in the last year or two.)

Farmer's Market Stand

While I see myself picking it back up this coming summer, I also see myself setting boundaries.  We had both begun feeling as if we had to put the stand out, not because we had extra produce but because people expected it to be there. It was becoming more of a burden than a blessing.

Having the extra time this past year has allowed flexibility in deciding what was best for our family at this time.  Even that has changed several times as various needs have come and gone.

While I wish I could say, “This is what is going to happen, this is what is going to work for us in the upcoming 12 (unforseen) months”, I know better.  Forget about His laughing at my presumptions, I would do it for Him.

So, for now, I see that this past year was only “for a season”. Whether my forecast is accurate or not remains to be seen. I now know that I can let go and still be Me, that my identity is tied to more that something I happen to be doing at this time, even if it is something I greatly enjoy doing. This is a lesson I seem to have needed reminding of yet again.

 

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Jul 242014
 

castle toysWe have slowly been coming back to our “normal” after Simon left last week.  His bed is still up, though I should probably move it today.  We all miss him and hope things are going well where he is.  His arrival and departure were both so sudden, I think we were all shocked by the change.

Olaf has not been here this week, making it all very quiet at our house.  Or at least quiet-ER.  Perhaps this is why I am feeling able to take on a few of the household tasks that seem to have crept up on me.

Poppy flower

The produce auction went okay.  Between Jack testing boundaries, loudly, I was able to get candy onions, cauliflowers, zucchini and cucumbers.  I also learned that another, older, lady was not only a foster parent but also a parenting coach.  She was such a blessing as she calmed Jack down when I couldn’t get through to him.  Sometimes it takes someone besides Mom telling you exactly what Mom has been trying to tell you for you to get it.  {sigh}  I was also a bit self-focused and throwing an internal tantrum which didn’t help me handle the situation very well.

Update: I decided to remove the tantrum I was having in my head versus the nicer words I was using.  If you missed it, know that what I was thinking was not what I said.  It did have an effect on my patience and how much empathy I was having at that moment.

Over the years I have seen many of the same people weekly all summer long as I enjoy going to these auctions.  That doesn’t always mean we get to know each other on a deep personal level right away, but slowly it happens.  Who would have ever guessed that the majority of foster parents I know is because they go to the produce auction?!  Granted, it is still less than the fingers on one hand. And that includes myself.

green onions

Today I used some of the produce to try one of the recipes out of a cookbook I am going to write a review of this week.  Great timing.  I actually tried 3 recipes at lunch and will work on another one tonight for supper, but only needed the cauliflower from the auction for the one recipe.

 first cucumber blossom of the season 2 2013

This week I was able to take advantage of a deal a local store was running.  It was super easy and resulted in a free gift card.  Not too bad for about 10 minutes of my time and less than half a gallon of gas.  Not sure if I will save this to use for a gift or for someone in our household.  Living in Small Town has made it more difficult to take advantage of a lot of the savings found in Big Town.  More difficult, but not impossible.  I’m learning to look in unique places and outside the box.  Another example: friend’s husband helped a neighbor haul off sticks from the yard, but refused payment for helping.  The neighbor offered sweet corn instead.  Friend’s husband agreed.  🙂

Also found out this week that a young man we previously hired to help with some jobs around the house, and whom I was about to call again, was no longer a good resource to call.  Seems he made a few bad choices recently.  These are ones that will have consequences and be difficult to overcome. Living in Small Town can give you a tight network of support, but can also at times lead to making bad choices out of perceived limited opportunities.  While these decisions and choices are not unique to Small Town, it can make them harder to come back from.

“Trust in the Lord with all thine heart, and lean not unto thine own understanding.  In all thy ways acknowledge Him and He shall direct thy paths.”  ~Psalms 3:5,6

I am not sure why this young made the decisions he did.  What I do know is that the road ahead of him will be difficult.  Unfortunately, I do not think he is a Christian, though he might believe in God.  Please pray for him if you think of it.

onion sets may 6 2014

While looking for skewers, to grill with, I found a bag of onion set from this spring which were not planted.  While I do NOT need more green onions, these will not go to waste.  Either I’ll plant them for a fall crop or give them to a friend.  I also found other seeds that I need to plant for a fall crop.  Cooler weather lately has made even more possible to still plant.  I took advantage this week of the cooler temperatures and planted several Bleeding Hearts in an area of the yard that does not grow grass due to shade.  My hope is that they will thrive here.

Farmer's Market Stand

With things calming down a bit here at home I decided to put the roadside produce stand back out.  The kids were a bit disappointed no one stopped yesterday.  My husband had to explain that people were not looking for it, “as Mommy has not been consistent in putting it out.”  It didn’t take long, though, as several people have stopped by today.  There is not a lot out there, but maybe people will begin looking for it again.  It does not take long for word to get around.

The picture above is from the farmer’s market a few years ago.  It was a season in life when this was possible, though it no longer is. I am glad I had the opportunity to do it when I did, as it was always something I wanted to try.  Perhaps again in the future, but not now.

baked apple muffins

Now, I am off to bake cupcakes with George and Jack.  My friend’s mom gave the boys a baking set with cupcake papers.  I have not heard the end of it since they received this gift.  So I’m going to be a “good mom” and ignore the housework while we go bake.  At least there will be sweet rewards at the end – ones with calories and ones of the heart.

Sep 202012
 

 

Okay, how many of you saw the misspelling I made in the title.  No, it was not done on purpose.  It was an example of spelling phonetically, according to how my brain hears the word.  Not always the best way to go.

At night, we bring the produce stand/table closer to the house just to detour any seekers of mischief.  There really have not been that many issues.  Last year was probably the biggest issue and it was resolved fairly quickly.  A pumpkin was a casualty in that one, but everything else made it out unscathed.  Still, the table gets brought closer every night.

This year we have taken the additional step of covering our produce stand at night.  Nothing fancy.  An extra table cloth, or plastic table cover, thrown over the items on the table and tucked in under some of the baskets so it doesn’t blow off.

At first, this had nothing to do with people and everything to do with bold, tomato biting squirrels.  It did take two incidences of finding tomatoes bitten into or partially eaten to decide to add a layer of ‘protection’.  Even then, the squirrels were not fully detoured, as they would risk climbing the onto the table in broad daylight if it was placed too close to their tree, by the street.  You could see them sitting on a limb eyeing the juicy tomatoes.

Covering the produce stand has also had a second benefit.  You see, what I mean by “bringing the stand closer to the house” means that I actually put it up on the porch.  It is protected from dew, rain and wind, and keeps animals from bothering it most nights.

Rain has not been a big issue this year, but we have had some rainy weather as of late.  The first time we had a very rainy day this fall, I left the stand on the porch as I didn’t want everything to sit out in the down pour.  I then had to leave the house and run an errand.  When I came back, I could tell someone had been to the stand.  Sure enough, there was money in the money box.  Hmmm.  Okay.  Perhaps it was a friend stopping by.  A few days later, while restocking some veggies, a customer stops by.  In the midst of visiting they mention that when they stopped by a few days before, they got some produce from the stand.  As in, they went up on the porch and bought produce.  They assumed I put it there because of the rain and that it was okay to just walk up on the porch.  This particular customer wasn’t scary in the least and it didn’t bother me too much.

A few days later, in the morning, I hear footsteps on my porch and look outside to see who is there.  It is early-ish and I hadn’t put the stand out yet.  Two customers, this time men, were on the porch, had removed the cover and were looking at produce.  That time, I wasn’t so fond of the idea.

Now, I make sure to tuck the cover in such that it is very obvious.  There have been a few customers who come to the door, knock and then ask if I have such and such.  I very much prefer this method.  We have talked about moving the stand somewhere else at night.  Perhaps even a different location on my porch so that it isn’t as easy to get to.  However, it has not been a big enough issue to warrent the extra effort and change in habit that would take.

I don’t want this to become to big of an issue inside my head, as the community really has been great about being honest and respectful.  We haven’t really had any issues this year, knock on wood.  Everyone seems to appreciate the fact that it is there, whether it be because of convenience or prices or the fact that it is fresh, local produce.  For this reason, we have chosen not to really make an issue of this new habit that seems to be developing.

For now, having the cover tucked under more obviously seems to detour both squirrels and people alike … as long as we remember to actually put it on at night.

 

As a side story, I wanted to share something that shows just how great some of my neighbors are.  I was not at home, but my friend was.  The friend who does that stand with me.  She noticed a customer taking a long time at the stand and picking up and putting down several different things, and then putting a lot of tomatoes and such into a bag.  She decided to go and see if the customer needed help.  After putting on shoes and heading out the door, she then saw someone she knew, whose relatives were the previous owners of my house, pull up to the stand.  The first customer left.  When my friend started talking to the second car, she was told that they didn’t actually need anything.  They just wanted to make sure that the first customer actually paid for the items they were buying.  (They had.)  They probably knew I wasn’t home and was just helping keep an eye on the table.  I’m not sure what says ‘Neighborliness’ more than that.  It is experiences like this one that help keep me going with this some days.  That and hearing from those on fixed incomes who really appreciate the fresh produce they are able to get.  Yes, we could charge more, but we don’t need to.

Jul 242012
 

I have tomatoes.

Unfortunately they are not from my garden.  They were a really good deal, though, at $.17-$.20 per pound.  My intent was to get some for myself and put the rest on the stand.  However, the deal was so good that I went a bit overboard.  Now, instead of having a few tomatoes to eat with our meals this week, I have about 120 lbs of them.  They look good, even the #2’s and canners.

And I was worried that there would not be any tomatoes because of the drought.  I am not chancing it though and will go ahead and buy them now rather than wait to see if I can get a better deal on them later.  Considering the store is selling them for $1.69 or so, what I paid for them is just fine by me.

The only thing that was keeping me from buying more was the fact that I knew my Norpro Sauce Master had a broken handle.  See, last fall It and I had a disagreement.  I thought I had won, but in the end It did … the handle broke when I was almost done.  More precisely the nut that allows the handle to rotate broke off.  Completely my fault, by the way.  Once I admitted that I was in the wrong, and fixed the problem, It worked so much smoother and better … right before I finally broke the nut beyond repair.  Let me just say that trying to “fix” it with a screw wrapped in tape may have been a sufficient fix, but definitely not the most comfortable.  My knuckles and hands paid for it.

So, why has it taken me this long to replace it?  That is a great question.  {crickets chirp and you can hear the leaves falling in the breeze.  Itsn’t it peaceful?}

Today I said that it was finally time to order a replacement part.  I had not been looking forward to doing it by mail order.  Something about it makes me nervous even though people did it this way for generations.  I decided to check online instead.  Sure enough, I found a store online that had the handle I wanted.  For less than $3 more than ordering it by  mail, I should get it within the week rather than in 4-6 weeks.  It is worth the $3 to me to have it here that much sooner.

And so begins the Great Tomato Adventures of 2012.  So far everything is off to a good start.  Now to go put the tomatoes somewhere besides the trunk of my car.

My camera still doesn’t have a card that will work with it.  As a result, I did not take the picture above.  However, it looks so much like my stand that I could have and there wouldn’t have been much of a difference.  For those who don’t know, the green containers are actually quart sized containers.  They make great containers for anything though, not just stuff that you need a quart of.

Jun 282012
 

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.

For example:

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

  1. Will your stand stay out all the time or is it something you will put out in the morning and bring in at night?
  2. Will you be close by to help everyone who stops by or make it more of a self-serve setup?
  3. Is this something you want to do at your home or elsewhere?
  4. How about going to farmers’ markets?
  5. Do you want to do it all season or just during specific produce’s harvest times (watermelons, tomatoes, corn, etc.)?
  6. 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.