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The Psychology Of The Honor System At The Farm Stand  RSS feed

 
steward
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Nice article.

I know a family that sells at farmer's markets on weekends, but also leaves a trailer parked at the foot of their driveway with an honor system veggie stand. They told me that some days, the honor system stand brings in more cash than the farmer's market.

I have also heard some horror stories from others. I guess it all boils down to the community you live in.

 
pollinator
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I feel absolutely certain that it would not work where I live............but I am so certain of this that I could be very wrong.

I am considering putting up a small stand of standard farmers market stuff just to see if I am wrong. I would like to be wrong. I am going to discuss this with my neighbor who has the property up on the road. It could be an interesting social experiment.
 
steward
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I like the idea of having an honor pay system where people take the responsibility to make the appropriate payment for the items purchased but the money is secure once it's deposited. There was a video from Paul that showed a system where people stuffed money OR IOU's into tennis balls which were deposited in a long plastic tube which led to a secure location. It was fun, secure and honest. Seems Like a nice balance or honest payment and security. There is a risk of people stealing products but at least the money from honest people is safe and secure.
 
Stanley Peters
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Disclaimer: I have never operated a farm stand.

However, I do a lot of reading of marketing materials and I would suggest a couple ideas.

Place a mirror where everyone will see themselves. Research I have read shows this will improve your results.
Place signs that thank your customers for their honesty and ask them to refer their friends. People like to be thanked and like to help.
Give your customers permission to write an IOU. Trust goes a long way.

I'd like to read from experienced farm stand marketers, what proven ideas, practices and techniques can you share?
 
John Polk
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Those seem like good ideas.

The mirror is probably psychological: "I see myself...who else saw me?"
It could make a person with evil intentions think twice...
...the cynic in me also says if it is a nice mirror, he may take it instead of a few tomatoes if that was the original intention. I have read that stores that have mirrors scattered around suffer much less shoplifting.

The 'pre-thanking' and requesting that they recommend you helps reinforce the trust factor (so does the IOU option).
Most people like to be trusted. You have just made friends with somebody you have never met.
 
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I have heard, directly, of too many cases where this did not work out. I don't know of any of these honor system farm stands that lasted long term. It only takes a little stealing to wipe out your profits. Heck, people steal from community gardens, firewood out of the front yard, etc. I don't recommend trying this.
 
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Some of these folks seem to have done it for awhile, and come up with some clever ways to thwart troublemakers: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gy_H-eQf6Ng&feature=plcp

If I can ever grow more food than I can use or give away, I plan to have an honor farm stand.

But I think the success might depend on your location and how folks in your area behave. We've never had any theft or vandalism on our place. But it is a relatively affluent locale.
 
John Polk
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This is not something to be tried in areas that house meth labs, which seem to be popping up in many areas that I would not have thought of this as a problem several years ago.



 
pollinator
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i grew up near an honor system farm stand. there was a lot of various vegetables and fruit on the stand, no one tending it, and a handwritten sign showing the price of each thing with a place to drop the money. =) the whole thing makes me happy to think about this way, that they did this, and it seemed to work out good.

sometimes i would get sent there to get some things things for dinner, or we would stop by and pick things up on the home. as far as i know it went ok for the people and they generated money this way. i do not know if there were any ever problems. but now...theres no farm there and a few mcmansions instead.

i would figure, if i were to have a system like this, that anyone who desperately needed the food and couldnt pay i wouldnt care. but i know...i am odd that way
 
Craig Dobbson
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leila hamaya wrote: i would figure, if i were to have a system like this, that anyone who desperately needed the food and couldnt pay i wouldnt care. but i know...i am odd that way




I don't produce enough to have a farm stand (yet) but I would have no problem at all with people taking a few items for dinner, even if they couldn't pay. Feeding a hungry person is the kindest thing a person can do, even if it cost you a few bucks.

I'd only be pissed if one person completely wiped out the stand and tried to resell it or if they just destroyed the food for "fun". I know kids like to smash pumpkins around Halloween time and to a degree I understand that, after all nobody intends to eat that half-rotted jack-o-lantern on the porch. But just ruining good food seems cruel... and that bugs me.

 
leila hamaya
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i really love this idea, and have thought about this a bunch of times.
i suggested this even to a friend of mine a while back, but i think shes too remote for it to work as well.
she is involved in a community effort/gardening /food bank project though...and this seems to lend itself well to having this honor system.

if this were being done in a way where you were doubling as a food bank, place to stop by and get free food, CSA excess, and/or a place to invite other small farmer gardeners to able to also leave whatever they had in excess to contribute i think this would work really well and generate at least some money...as well as provide a place for people who were in need to get quality food. its possible if one was willing to sell the food as donation, it became known among people they could write IOU, and the suggested donations...that this may inspire other people who had more resources to support this...like someone might go out of the way to come and buy some of your food, because they knew you were also giving food, and "suggested donation" to other hungry people and they wished to support your project.


where i am at, and other places, there might be a code, permit, errr something weird...about putting up a stand, but i think in many places it would be totally cool and people wouldnt trip on it too much.

and actually, from what i know from doing random selling in various places, by accepting "donations" or suggested donations, you can even circumnavigate any laws about such. there is no way to make it illegal to give things away, and contrary to what many might think, "suggested donation" is actually a good way to get paid. more people will give you exactly that amount or more if you word your transaction in these terms. for my craftworks and such where i have done this, i OFTEN recieve MORE than i ask for if i word things in this way.

it would cool to be in the position to do this, and i think you would be able to generate at least a small additional income. seeing as how it would be easy if you werent tending it, and were already producing veggies/foods in a bit of surplus, it would just be a matter of building it and setting it up, and every couple of days putting the excess out.
 
leila hamaya
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leila hamaya wrote: i would figure, if i were to have a system like this, that anyone who desperately needed the food and couldnt pay i wouldnt care. but i know...i am odd that way



Craig Dobbelyu wrote:
I don't produce enough to have a farm stand (yet) but I would have no problem at all with people taking a few items for dinner, even if they couldn't pay. Feeding a hungry person is the kindest thing a person can do, even if it cost you a few bucks.

I'd only be pissed if one person completely wiped out the stand and tried to resell it or if they just destroyed the food for "fun". I know kids like to smash pumpkins around Halloween time and to a degree I understand that, after all nobody intends to eat that half-rotted jack-o-lantern on the porch. But just ruining good food seems cruel... and that bugs me.



yeah that would be weird, and it would be even weirder if someone tried to steal the money. taking the food wouldnt be a big deal. but...maybe i am optimistic...i think this would be only one out of every couple hundred people...who have it in them to act this way.
 
Walter Jeffries
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Craig Dobbelyu wrote:I don't produce enough to have a farm stand (yet) but I would have no problem at all with people taking a few items for dinner, even if they couldn't pay. Feeding a hungry person is the kindest thing a person can do, even if it cost you a few bucks.



You assume that people steal because they're hungry and don't have the money to pay. I don't agree with that assumption. Not only that, my mortgage holder, utility and the town tax collector won't accept that excuse from me that I can't pay them because I donated food to the 'needy'. No, they won't accept the excuse but will instead foreclose on me taking away my land, cut off my electricity and phone taking away my ability to do business and take away my land (town). I farm. If I raise it and put it up for sale and someone steals it then they have stolen out of the mouths of my children. That is not acceptable. If I choose to give someone something that is one thing but it is not acceptable for them to simply take it because they choose not to pay. Harsh reality check for you: if they can get to the farm stand in almost all cases that means they choose to spend the money on a car and gasoline. If they can choose to do that then they can pay for the food.
 
Craig Dobbson
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Walter Jeffries wrote:

Craig Dobbelyu wrote:I don't produce enough to have a farm stand (yet) but I would have no problem at all with people taking a few items for dinner, even if they couldn't pay. Feeding a hungry person is the kindest thing a person can do, even if it cost you a few bucks.



You assume that people steal because they're hungry and don't have the money to pay. I don't agree with that assumption. Not only that, my mortgage holder, utility and the town tax collector won't accept that excuse from me that I can't pay them because I donated food to the 'needy'. No, they won't accept the excuse but will instead foreclose on me taking away my land, cut off my electricity and phone taking away my ability to do business and take away my land (town). I farm. If I raise it and put it up for sale and someone steals it then they have stolen out of the mouths of my children. That is not acceptable. If I choose to give someone something that is one thing but it is not acceptable for them to simply take it because they choose not to pay. Harsh reality check for you: if they can get to the farm stand in almost all cases that means they choose to spend the money on a car and gasoline. If they can choose to do that then they can pay for the food.



With all due respect, if a a few veggies or a few pieces of fruit are going to break the bank for you, then an honor system food stand is Not the system for you. By all means, man the stand and make sure you get paid. An honor system stand is based on exactly that, "HONOR". One MUST assume that from time to time somebody won't have money to pay right away or at all. BUT they may come back later to pay. Some people might over-pay one time and take something later without adding more to the till. In an honor system you have to take a "long term" approach in my opinion. One day the till might be over, and the next it may be short. This is especially the case when there is no way to make change. I would just hope that it balances out at the end of the season. From what I've seen, it usually ends up that there's more money than the product sold should dictate. That's not bad considering you don't have to sit and watch it or PAY somebody to watch it. Sometimes I wonder how much of the cash discrepancy is due to faulty math skills either on the part of the farmer or the customer.

Reality is harsh enough without assuming that everyone out there is a dick trying to screw you over. Most people are decent and want to do the right thing. Some simply can't always do the right thing for one reason or another. That's not for me(or you) to judge. Sure there are people who steal out of malice and that's on their conscience, not mine. I'm not talking about stealing the cash drawer. That's shitty... but hey, leave money unattended for long enough and it's bound to go missing eventually. That's life. It also seems that most honor system stands have found nice ways of preventing that from happening. I'm only saying that a few missing ears of corn which are not paid for isn't worth getting upset over. This is especially the case if you sell to a regular market for most of your income and then have an honor stand for the "off days" when you don't go to market. I would assume that if you are farming for a living then you're not solely relying on an unmanned roadside produce stand to pay your mortgage. That would have to be one hell of a farm stand and quite a risky bet. Certainly no reasonable person would risk their house and family on such a venture.

As for what people choose to spend their money on, again that's not for me to judge. It could be that they choose a nice car and a fancy house, then they take a cucumber from a farm stand without paying. Big whoop! OR it could be a family of 4 living in that car who spent their last dollar on gas. Maybe they stop by your farm stand and take a loaf of bread on their way to dumpster dive behind a grocery store for whatever else they can find. Whatever the case may be, I choose not to assume that people are always purposefully ill-intentioned. To me, that's a sad way to go about living your life and it adds unnecessary stress to existence.

MOST people are honorable people. That's why an honor system stand works almost all the time. Some (very few) people are not honorable, but what are you going to do, hunt them down over a bag of peas and demand your 2 dollars? Aren't we better than that? We have to take the good with the bad. That's reality. I get the impression that there aren't a whole lot of habitual food thieves out there ripping off farmers. If there were, then we'd have roadside produce vending machines that only cough up the peppers once you put the cash in the slot.



 
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I live in Georgia about 20 miles south of Atlanta. I sold firewood. I sold quite a bit of it on the honor system. When I was away and got a call for wood I would tell them the price and where to leave the money and what stack to get. In nine years I had only one that stole wood. He called I told him what to do and when I got home he took four stacks instead of one and left no money. Turns out that my brother inlaw could ID the man. I still sell items on the honor system and am very happy with the added sales. The way I figure it is if givin the chance most people are honest. Of coarse there are some that are not. Some people just don't have the money and are truely needy some are just crooks. I'm glad I took the chance, so is my wallet.
Just my two cents worth
 
leila hamaya
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true wealth is shown by how much you give, not how much you have or take.
i know this sounds backwards at first, but its the truth, in my book.

i would like to think that, and i hold open the possibility that, other people agree with that, at least in practice as they live.

and, the way things actually work, contrary as it might be to someones logic. if you want to start a chain reaction of lots of things to come to you, give away a lot of things. new things show up to replace the old, usually more appropriate =)

sharing and giving, exchanging are what makes the whole world go round.

so nothings really lost, but thats in a big picture kind of way. in the immediate, considering especially how unjust and un fair things are set up, it doesnt seem this way. when people are more and more desperate, more and more insecure, the more difficult it becomes to just make ends meet -the more they will turn on each other, unfortunately.

and it gets into a kinda vacuum like down ward spiral...everyone grasping what they have, not sharing....grabbing more and more....and the less and less there seems to be. and so you have the perceptions built that its a "dog eat dog world" and that builds itself to epic proportions

it seems obvious to me that if a dog is actually eating another dog there is a serious problem ! imbalance of its food chain! and this is a symptom of the out of balance systems

but i know, its so difficult for people to be able to afford to farm, and the absurdly high real estate costs, the absurdity of being penalized and fined, fees and insurance...its tough to make a go of this, and this is UNJUST. not to mention illogical.

and land costs and food costs are linked.
there was a time when food was free, well you paid in some backache and sweat equity, for sure. but food was abundant for the gathering and the cultivating.... and land was much more easily come by.

so instead of turning around and pointing at the real causes of the inequity, the injustice, the real issues (which are over whelmingly huge and systemic) we turn on each other, blame the wrong things. or get into that down ward spiral kind of way...where less and less is shared, is given.

i would like to think this isnt the case, and that there are lots of people who are beyond this, and i do believe that there are. and then the one out of a hundred, whos a jerk, who will make a good situation bad, and a bad situation worse. but i think we shouldnt let that color our perceptions of all people, its the few who always try to ruin it for everyone.
and you have to consider...what would make them be that way.

i mean someone who would have it in them to steal from a FARMER of all people...has got to have some pretty serious problems and a really crappy reality tunnel! not that its easy to have compassion.

you would have to figure this in, its likely inevitable at some point....for someone who would benefit for an additional 25-100 dollars a week though...if a very small amount of money like that would be a big deal for them (i would think common among small farmers, and homesteaders in rural areas) then i think this be worth it.
and you would just look at it as an extra, being able to trade your surplus for cold hard cash.

especially would work good with two or more contributors, like if some neighbors were willing to contribute some surplus.
or as an adjunct to another bigger stand.
like if you had a nice big stand closer to your house or farm for certain hours and sold your primo top shelf stuff there.
then also had a mini stand right on the road where you put whatever was surplus, the stuff you didnt sell for higher price and even encouraged some other people to contribute.

or trade! oo that would be cool. if you could drop off your extra zucchini for something else there =) but i am getting...a little left of center here...but thats an interesting idea that just came to me.

btw-not speaking specifically to anyone here, just in the most general sense.
not trying to be preachy, just vocalizing these ideas, what i think.
 
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I think it's a great idea. The way I look at is this....

If I pay someone $8 an hour to stand there collecting money, it costs me at least $240 per week, and there is a good chance THEY will be pocketing some of the cash and taking a bit of produce here and there. This can be seen as a guaranteed loss per week.

Yeah, someone might take some produce now and then, but how much would this average per week? It would probably be a lot less than paying someone to stand there, and you would avoid the problems of people calling in sick, needing time off, or whatever. You would also be able to stay open more days per week and for longer hours per day.

Rather than outright theft, I am guessing most of the "losses" would be from items that the customer weighs or otherwise determines how much they can take for the listed price. 1.1 pounds is close enough to a pound, .9 pounds never is, yanno? I wouldn't worry about this, but that's just me.

I would make a fake camera with a battery powered led and mount it in the corner of the stand. Then maybe hang a body from a nearby tree with a "thief" sign stapled to his chest. Ummm, that last suggestion might not be legal in all areas, please check your local regulations.
 
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The stand at our local farm is set up inside the barn near the gate, you have to come in close the door and then look in the refrigerator to see what is there. I think the psychology of having to come inside deters the random drive by theft. I agree that for amount you would have to pay or trade for a person to hang out waiting for customers is probably balanced in favor of mystery losses. IDEA...Having a sign that says "Need free food ? Please come ask" to which you can possibly direct that person towards something you have, that you know does not meet market aesthetics, or simply something more affordable to give away. The FREE box is always a good idea as well.
 
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This is interesting, but how many people even carry cash anymore? I almost never have cash on me.
 
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Rane Wallin wrote:This is interesting, but how many people even carry cash anymore? I almost never have cash on me.



If there was a farm stand near you, you might get cash back at the store so you could pick up some things.

Here in Maine they're everywhere, even in Southern Maine where it is more city and suburbs. They're only around during the summer, which is also yard sale season and beach season so having cash is more common.
 
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There were a lot of honor boxes at farm stands where I used to live. I can only guess the reason there were so many was that they worked. I agree if you factor in what your time is worth to be out there guarding your food and waiting for a customer, you can take the random losses a little easier. And don't forget - it may not be just humans who occasionally steal your food - roaming dogs can be a force to be reckoned with. My dog, for instance, loves pumpkins. I know of others that really like tomatoes.

Probably what may be key is to only put out small amounts at a time and check for cash frequently. So any losses will be small. Maybe with a sign saying if you want larger quantities to call your cell # or knock on the door.
 
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If I put an honor system stand in the area where I live/work I know exactly what would happen:
50% of people would pick what they wanted and pay what I suggested
45% of people would pay less or zero for what they took
Then when there was sufficient lull in foot traffic (witnesses) between 1-5 juveniles would destroy all the food and take a shot at the stand and the money box. Just for fun.

BUT!!
Like Paul said in his podcast on the subject, I would love to do it anyways. I would love to see the look on the guys face when he sees I just rebuilt what he tried to destroy and for him to know I will do it again and again.
I think it's going to take the small things to change the course of our inner cities.

Then again it would cost me money, so it's going to have to wait a while.
 
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