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before the grocery store how was food sold from farmers?  RSS feed

 
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before the grocery store how was food sold from farmers? i know farmers markets but any other ways? did they direct market produce similar to a csa? any documentaries or books on this topic?
 
master pollinator
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Farmers would cart their products to town or to the city and sell it to butcher or green-grocer shops, from which it was sold to the end user.  This is just what I've gleaned from reading old literature.


This book looks interesting: Sugar and Spice. Grocers and Groceries in Provincial England, 1650-1830  https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/1468-0289.12067_6
 
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What time era are you referring to? Pre 1900? 1700-1800's? Earlier? And location.....Europe, the Americas, Africa, Asia, etc?

I've read some US diaries from 1800s and early 1900s that indicated not just carting their produce to the nearest town, but also selling to a buyer that came out to the countryside to buy then ship via railroad to the cities. There apparently was some selling to a consolidator when then took his cartfuls via cart or barge to the cities and more distant towns. I've read accounts of where certain crops were dried in order to ship, such as cabbage. And corn converted to whiskey because shipping the corm that way was less volume and still profitable.

Depending upon the era you are asking about, transportation was quite a hurdle.
 
pollinator
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I think this pic says alot.
06cda4b9cc136afaa681665e26a88653-joel-salatin-grocery-store.jpg
[Thumbnail for 06cda4b9cc136afaa681665e26a88653-joel-salatin-grocery-store.jpg]
 
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Mart Hale wrote:I think this pic says alot.



Supermarkets were probably a response to new developments in the suburbs (where there were no existing bakeries, butcher shops, etc...).'46 was when the troops came home and started buying up tract houses, right?
 
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The following really is about America and a little about what I know about farming in America. Before grocery stores as we know them today there really weren’t massive 1000+ or even 10,000+ acre farms growing crops to be processed into “foods” which make their way into plastic bags and cardboard boxes and onto grocery store shelves. There were farms, and farmers, but they were small and largely encompassed cities, where the farms produce would be transported via horse & carriage or train into the cities to be sold at small markets or general stores, usually several times a week or sometimes even daily, depending on availability and of course how perishable an item may be.

Really it was the advent of cities and people moving to them which created the need for a farmer to grow food for other people.  Before the war most families grew their own food, even some families in cities had small gardens and there really weren’t many farmers feeding other people. I mean there were, but not acres upon acres of cereal grains like we see sprawling across lands today. The farmers back then grew greens, tubers, roots, vegetables, and fruits from trees or berries from bushes that grew well in their climate. This is what was transported by farmers outside of cities into small markets within the city. City dwellers at the time did not buy groceries once a week like is common nowadays. They went to the market every day, and bought what they needed for that day since refrigeration wasn’t common or didn’t exist (depending on the era in question).

At some point in time the food from farmers isn’t sold but bartered or traded for other goods & services, but again going back in time, most families are growing their own food.

There’s a great little book, Ten Acres Enough by Edmund Morris, and he writes about his ten acre farm outside of a big city (I can't remember which one exactly, memory wants to say Philadelphia) in the 1850’s and 60’s. He’s a truck farmer (truck being the term for produce back then) and he writes about his experience farming and also transporting and selling his produce to a market in the city, where he would go to pick up cash after his produce sold, or use store credit with the merchant to get things he needs for his family. It’s a great book, easy to read, and I recommend it.
 
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Well we have always had merchant ships, buying dehydrated herbs (spices), dehydrated salted fish, fermented meats, fur, farm slaves, dehydrated fruits, dehydrated grains (corn/wheat), and dehydrated milk (cheese), fermented grains (beer/whiskey).

But I think that until very recently, most of USA/world population was subsistence farmers/homesteaders.

Most of the time people would go to the farm aka farmstand and U-Pick type, they would have quasi/verbal contract to buy lamb for easter, turkey for thanksgiving, etc, etc

Hay Markets and Farmers Market have always existed though, where a farmer/merchant would bring their produce in Thursday,Friday,Saturday/Sunday and folks would come in and buy.

There was no plow truck, so people did stockup dry rice/wheat/corn/raisin/cheese/prunes.
 
Mart Hale
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Lucrecia Anderson wrote:

Mart Hale wrote:I think this pic says alot.



Supermarkets were probably a response to new developments in the suburbs (where there were no existing bakeries, butcher shops, etc...).'46 was when the troops came home and started buying up tract houses, right?




I don't know if '46 was when super markets started, as there was even in the 1800's the general store,  where you went in the towns to buy goods that you did not make at home, like the flour mill was used to grind flour with water power.

I think we have moved to a place that we are more dependent on the store for our needs.      I do not see this as a bad thing myself as I believe some goods are better produced outside of our area, as if I was in Alaska, I would not expect that wheat would have to be grown locally when it could be grown much easier in Iowa.
 
Lucrecia Anderson
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S Bengi wrote:
But I think that until very recently, most of USA/world population was subsistence farmers/homesteaders.



Oswald Spengler.

A civilizations spring/summer/fall/winter.  Spring starts off with the majority of the population being rural, eventually 1/3 or 1/2 live in the cities and that is considered the summer or  "height" of the civilization with regard to art, science, literature, civility etc.... It is a balanced society with city intellectuals and down-to-earth country people represented equally. But after a while the MAJORITY of the population moves into the cities (and the city people begin to view rural people as ignorant/backward) and that's when things start to get weird (rampant gov corruption, losing touch with the natural world, general insanity) and the civilization goes into decline and eventually collapses. I.e. Fall of Rome which was followed by a return to an agrarian lifestyle until new thriving cities were created during the Renaissance.

The lack of small farms/homesteads is a very big deal that goes far beyond local food supplies.
 
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It all seems very sad to me. I remember being so surprised as a young teen, visiting relatives in Kansas—visiting those who lived on their farms still. I don’t know what I expected, but I thought they’d have a vegetable garden, or at the very least they’d be eating their own wheat and corn. (This was mid-1970’s.) Their huge farm kitchens were filled with so much stuff you could hardly see what they even had there, but none of it was sans packages. They had no cows—no chickens even. Everything came from the store. They complained about the weather, about how farming didn’t pay, owned combines a block long (or so it seemed to me), and guided us out there in their Mercedes car. I asked to buy some wheat because I wanted to try making my own flour for bread and it seemed a very strange request to them. Getting a small quantity out of a silo was a big deal as I recall. I don’t think I got it, but that was a very long time ago and I can’t remember for sure. I believe I ended up finding some in a health food store when we got back to Florida. The whole thing seemed surreal. Not at all what I had expected and so disappointing.

Some will remember the whole “back-to-the-land” thing around that era. It took me a very long time. And I even lived here on this small acreage in the central Black Hills (SD) for nearly 15 years before I realized that yes, even though there are very few things we could grow without a greenhouse, I COULD have chickens. And suddenly I decided I had to have cows, too, and now I’m planning spring additions to the poultry, possibly “piggerators” if that seems necessary when winter goes away.... Also dreaming of a hoop house for veggies. At this time in my life, it all seems surreal, but not sad at all. :-D I think I may be going to be more the kind of farmer I had hoped my cousins were. All I’m really looking for here is a connection—something a lot more real than life seems to have become in a world of supermarkets and everything supplied by a country halfway across the globe.
 
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Prior to the grocery store or supermarket my understanding was food was more specialized and at least in larger towns and cities meat would be purchased from a butcher, fish from the fish monger, bread from the baker and so forth. General stores took up the slack. Large specialized markets where food imported from the countryside would be sold by farmers and middle men who purchase in bulk from farmers and sold to smaller markets, push cart vendors and restaurants. These central markets have been around for centuries and still exist today. The supermarket evolved as a time saver concurrent with the adoption of the automobile and inexpensive refrigeration
 
S Bengi
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When I think of supermarket(offsite community food storage) I think of refrigeration.
Milk, Juice, Icecream, Frozen Pizza, Frozen TV Dinner, Beef, Chicken, Mutton, Fish, butter

There is also bulk carbs, dehydrated corn, beans, rice, wheat/flour/noodles/pasta
Bakery goods: croutons, pop-tart, little debbie, cereal/cornflakes, cake, bread.
Dehydrated herbs (spices/seasoning) and dehydrated fruits (raisins/prunes/dates/apricots) and dehydrated nuts
Liquid oil, honey/sugar/syrup and fruit/grain fermented alcohol

And finally there is 'fresh' cabbage/lettuce/kale and banana/pineapple/blueberry.


Before grocery store people bought dehydrated grains/beans/nuts/oils/sugar/flour/fruits in bulk and stored it for months once they got it from the farmer house or central market.
They also had no refrigeration so we ate alot less meats/icecream/milk in winter.
In the winter we stored meats (smoked/salted/dehydrated/fermented) in bulk.

In terms of vegetable/fruit farmers, I suppose consumers dehydrated or fermented the vegetables and stored them, but mostly after fall they did without.
 
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There is a story in my family that my great-grandmother used to have a truck come once a year to fill her pantry with canned vegetables.  I think this must have been a time saving move on her part because my great-grandparents lived on a farm!  This may also have been how people made the transition between growing/preserving/cooking all their own food, and the way supermarkets are in use today.
 
Lucrecia Anderson
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S Bengi wrote:
In terms of vegetable/fruit farmers, I suppose consumers dehydrated or fermented the vegetables and stored them, but mostly after fall they did without.



I think most ate seasonally. Grain based diets with small game/poultry and fresh fruits/greens in spring/summer. In the late fall it was beef/pork (easier to store in winter) and root crops.

Storing/preserving food was survival based without a big focus on variety for the sake of it, our thoughts on preserving every type of food so we can eat a huge variety all year long is surely the product of supermarkets and canning. Though back in the day vitamin C deficiency could be a problem in just 4-6 weeks which is where sauerkraut and some other preserved foods came in.

Dandylions were imported from Europe and some say they were prized because they were one of the first edible plants to pop up in spring, their tasty leaves were valued because by then everyone was craving greens/vitamin C.
 
S Bengi
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I was wondering how long civilization have been canning. It was invented in 1810 for the french army.  
Then became affordable for the working class around 1875.
 
Lucrecia Anderson
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S Bengi wrote:I was wondering how long civilization have been canning. It was invented in 1810 for the french army.  
Then became affordable for the working class around 1875.



I don't think it became common in the US until about 1920, by common I mean everyday average people buying lots of canned food or canning their own.

Before then it was hard to make cans (hand welded) and it was an expensive. When they figured out how to quickly mass produce cans and seal them then it really took off.
 
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According to the stories my Dad told me of the 1920’s, farmers had a few options:

• People ate seasonal food, nobody thought or had the opportunity to eat stuff out of season because refrigerated mass storage and transport didn’t exist.
• Farmers sold products directly via stalls or door-to-door carts – like the milkman, baker, ice man, etc
• Broad acre Farmers who grew things like potatoes, onions, etc mainly sold products to an Agent. Agents were unpopular people because they took a cut of profits and really did nothing of benefit … like the supermarkets of today!
• Likewise, farmers that grew value adding crops like sugar cane, or, commercially trawled for fish, sold their produce to a Cooperative = sugar mill or fish Co-op (This hasn’t changed)
• Farmers and Fishermen often had a truck or wagon and a weekly route encompassing outlying areas that grew different crops or didn’t have access to fresh fish. Trucks would not return empty, filled with crops or other things not available back home.
• Butchers would raise cattle/sheep or pigs themselves and supply their shop. (Selling dressed poultry is a relatively modern thing, most people raised and killed their own birds – even then they knew of the health issues related to poultry slaughter.)
• During the Depression, money was scarce but in rural areas food was plentiful. So trading was a big thing. My Grandmother regularly gave Swagmen, who were ‘On The Wallaby’, menial work like cutting firewood and would ‘pay’ them with a hearty sit down meal and provide some food to take away and use on the track. It was a common thing, and everyone benefited. There seemed to be a sense of honour and fairness - people didn’t expect anything for nothing, work was expected and payment was ‘in kind’: food, a place to sleep; maybe some tobacco, spare clothing, etc. (Wonder how people would react these days in similar circumstances – not too well I imagine!)
• Farmers and their wives purchased things from catalogues, much like internet shopping today.
• Not to forget the dreaded door-to-door salesmen … some were anticipated, some were not. Some represented large companies and also provided catalogues.
• Not a lot of things were purchased in tins or bottles – jams, pickles, chutneys, and preserved fruit were all homemade. Tomato and Worcestershire Sauce being the most commonly purchased luxuries.
• My Grandfather, like most men of that generation, smoked/cured or pickled home raised meat. If there was a glut of fish in the river, he’d smoke or dry them for later use.
• Things were sold in bulk: the hardware store sold nails by the pound weight, the produce store sold flour by the bushel, molasses by the gallon. Nobody purchased small quantities. Consider also that people had larger, non-nuclear families, and cooked every meal from scratch – no takeaway, few commercial biscuits and cakes. (Why would anyone eat commercial cakes and biscuits when the ‘womenfolk’ would stoke up the wood fired stove to cook a sponge cake using home-grown eggs and butter, and fill it with homemade cream and jam!!)


I was lucky enough to grow up just as many of these things were fading into history. To be honest, and without rose-coloured glasses, life was slower, simpler, MUCH more enjoyable and richer in many ways.

For example, in suburbia, the simple daily routine of talking with the milkman, discussing the price of cream and whether it was worth the cost, but still deciding to buy it because the Milkman is just a nice bloke trying to make a living and raise a family.
Or, up on the family farm, just after sunrise, walking next door across dew covered grass and through strings of wet spider webs to a neighbour who had a milking cow and getting a billy can full of steaming milk literally straight from the cow herself. Sure as hell beats driving to a no-name supermarket, buying no-name no-cream milk, giving the money to a no-name cashier, and driving back home!
 
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Wesley johnsen wrote:before the grocery store how was food sold from farmers? i know farmers markets but any other ways? did they direct market produce similar to a csa? any documentaries or books on this topic?



In Europe the "open market" started back in the 1100's they started out outdoors but then went under roofs and then inside buildings, these are still there today.
In the villages there was always farmer's with carts hauling their goods around, even fire wood was sold this way.
When the invaders came to the Americas they brought the selling traditions with them.
In the big cities of the USA the open market was the primary way people bought food until the Supermarket took over so there was a short overlap time period.
The peddler carts in the cities started moving out to the villages because the open markets offered a wider variety and haggling could take place because of the number of vendors.
Today, with all the "farmers markets" springing up around the USA, the open market concept is trying to make a type of comeback.

There were Ice Houses and Ice cellars as far back as the 1200's, at that time they were found only among the wealthy land owners (aristocrats).
 
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I've got a picture of my great grandfather standing next to his buggy. He had a few dairy cows and would deliver milk in it. It was a little closed in buggy like Doc from Little House TV show and it had two lanterns on the front as headlights. This was up in New England in the late 1800s.
 
Su Ba
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When I was a young kid (under 12) we got home delivery of several items including milk, eggs, bread, fresh vegetables, and pretzels. I learned later that the eggs and vegetables were direct from the farm.

I'd love to see peddlers return. But between the health department and the permitting department, I don't see it happening. The licensing fees the officials demand nowadays would be enough to prevent it, let alone any other regulations.
 
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Ten Acres Enough by Edmund Morris

Thanks for mentioning this book title. I found it at Gutenberg Press as an ebook!
 
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Thanks Ronnie, I found it on Gutenberg and am starting it tonight.
 
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I don't consider myself that old, but things have changed so much in my lifetime.  For starters, there wasn't nearly as much variety in the available foods, so there were not as many distributors.  Everyone's diet was much simpler and you tended to eat the same menu (meatloaf on Wednesday, chicken on Thursday, maybe a beef roast on Sunday).  People didn't eat as much meat because it was expensive, unless you lived on the farm, in which case you ate a lot of chicken.  My grandmother killed a chicken almost every day, and everyone got one piece.  She also baked rolls almost every day.  Most women did.  Most people had a big garden and everyone canned veggies in the summer.  Grandma used to say that if she hadn't canned 1000 quarts by the end of summer, it was going to be a tight winter.  That pressure cooker was going from late-June all the way till the first frost came and bit the garden.  Fruit was turned into jams and preserves because bread played a much larger part of most meals.  A lot of people had a root cellar to store potatoes, carrots and apples.  Most people had a big crock or three that they put up sourkraut.  

In most towns, you went to the bakery to buy baked goods, or bought a bag of flour from the miller to bake your own bread.  You stopped at the butcher shop to buy meat.  A green grocer had fruit and veggies.  If your town was lucky, there was a deli that sold cheese, sausage, and other preserved foods.  In the big cities you could get fish.  A milk man delivered fresh milk.  The large cities like New York had specialty shops selling things like olive oil or imported wine (there was no domestic wine industry).  In small towns, you knew someone who sold eggs.   You couldn't get most fruits out of season, and certainly didn't have "exotic" stuff like mangos, avocados, pineapple, kiwi, or even fresh citrus in most places.  

The advent of refrigeration and mechanical transportation (trucks) changed everything.  



 
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I'm probably repeating much that has already been said--I just quickly skimmed the replies--but there were many ways.

Supermarkets are relatively new, but don't let that lead you to believe that food markets are new.  The supermarket is in essence just an amalgamation of the more focused food marketing avenues: greengrocer (fruits and vegetables), butcher (meat), baker (bread and flour), general store (dry goods), etc.

I don't know of any books that deal with food distribution generally, but if you read old texts on specific food production there will be sections on marketing.

For starters, the subsistence farm was the rule rather than the exception.  For those entering "commercial" farming (if we want to call it that), access to markets was a major consideration.  When your only or primary transportation is via train, you're probably not going to get into a business endeavor that requires you to ship by train if you don't live near enough to a station.

The countryside was quite different.  Many more small general stores, more grist mills, more communities generally.  Farmers who raised a crop of, say, wheat would take that crop to their local mill.  The miller would take a percentage of the crop as payment for the milling, and local folks could then go to the mill to purchase their flour.  Thus the farmer's grain crop entered "the market."

Laying hens were kept in moderate numbers, as were milk cows.  It seems fluid milk consumption was uncommon enough, but there was a time when the farm wife (typically) could make butter and take it, along with surplus eggs, to the nearby general store.  I believe this was often bartered for other goods, though surely cash payment was given as well.  In either case, those things were now in "the market."  Plenty of communities had local creameries, too, where the farmers could sell their milk and/or cream.

Poultry was typically, it seems, killed and (mostly) plucked, then packed in barrels with ice to be shipped to distributors, who marketed the birds to butchers and such.  On a smaller scale, a handful of birds might be offered to the local general store as well.

"Cattle drives" aren't some quaint Western notion; that was how beef made it from the farm/ranch to the larger population centers.
 
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In the 1830's, my Great Uncle many times removed was a teacher. His salary was 9 bushels of oats!

Prior to 1850, Bushels of Oats or Bundles of Shingles were considered legal tender in Maine.
 
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My grandmother talks rather unfondly of her days on the farm. They weren't greatly impacted by the great depression on the family farm in Nebraska but it should be noted that not a single one of her siblings is on a farm now and my grandmother thinks I'm absolutely nuts to want anything to do with farming. She talks of the snakes in the chicken coop, the killing of dinner, the hardship of all the work, and not fondly.

When she discusses it it seems to me that it was a community thing. They raised what they ate and a bit extra for others to barter or trade.

All of my grandparents had a farm at some point. I am the only one with any land and drive to do any type of growing now.
 
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I want to say that I wholly agree with just about everything Wes said.

There have always, ALWAYS been markets.  The Americas were settled by Europeans largely because of the tremendous agricultural potential of the Western Hemisphere and the tremendous demand in the Eastern hemisphere.  In the area that would eventually become the United States, two cities jump out--New York and New Orleans.  Both cities, but New Orleans in particular sat at the mouths of rivers that gave good water access to the interior of the continent (New York's potential did not fully realize till after the Erie Canal connected the Hudson River System to the Great Lakes.  In the early history of the United States, farmers in western Pennsylvania could grow a great amount of corn, but could not get it to market (there was no reliable river transportation and this was a day before railroads--or much of any roads in that area for that matter).  Their solution--turn the corn into whiskey which both drastically reduced its volume (made a lot easier to get to market) and greatly increased its value once at market.  This list can go on and on, but there have always been markets.  Sometimes produce was bartered and sometimes produce was used as a sort of money (such as the case with whiskey in Pennsylvania).  In the Americas, commonly there were trading posts and there have been farmers markets for probably as long as there have been farmers.  Granted, the supermarket is relatively new, but there have always been markets.

Eric
 
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James Whitelaw wrote:Prior to the grocery store or supermarket my understanding was food was more specialized and at least in larger towns and cities meat would be purchased from a butcher, fish from the fish monger, bread from the baker and so forth. General stores took up the slack. Large specialized markets where food imported from the countryside would be sold by farmers and middle men who purchase in bulk from farmers and sold to smaller markets, push cart vendors and restaurants. These central markets have been around for centuries and still exist today. The supermarket evolved as a time saver concurrent with the adoption of the automobile and inexpensive refrigeration



And let us not forget, that is where commodities trading came from. Like everything else, it has attracted speculators, but its original purpose was to protect farmers from glutted markets. That is, if everyone's crop comes in about the same time, there is far more supply than demand, and the price drops so low the farmer cannot meet expenses; but if the farmer has a contracted buyer, who has agreed to buy the crop for a certain price no matter what the market may do, then the farmer is protected from this kind of loss. The buyer, meantime, has a guaranteed seller and does not need to worry about being outbid.
 
Jason Hernandez
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F Agricola wrote:
I was lucky enough to grow up just as many of these things were fading into history. To be honest, and without rose-coloured glasses, life was slower, simpler, MUCH more enjoyable and richer in many ways.



I guess that depends on how you define simpler. Me, I find pushing a few buttons on a microwave MUCH simpler than stoking up a fire and managing its temperature while trying to mix up ingredients at the same time.

For example, in suburbia, the simple daily routine of talking with the milkman, discussing the price of cream and whether it was worth the cost, but still deciding to buy it because the Milkman is just a nice bloke trying to make a living and raise a family.
Or, up on the family farm, just after sunrise, walking next door across dew covered grass and through strings of wet spider webs to a neighbour who had a milking cow and getting a billy can full of steaming milk literally straight from the cow herself. Sure as hell beats driving to a no-name supermarket, buying no-name no-cream milk, giving the money to a no-name cashier, and driving back home!



Unless, like those of us "on the spectrum," those kinds of social expectations are a source of stress. When traveling abroad, where haggling is expected, I am no good at it; I much prefer set prices I can read off a tag. The scenario you describe is to an autistic person what three flights of stairs would be to a person using a walker: it might be doable, but the difficulty would be upsetting -- hence, life would not be more enjoyable or richer.
 
Mother Tree
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Jason Hernandez wrote:Unless, like those of us "on the spectrum," those kinds of social expectations are a source of stress. When traveling abroad, where haggling is expected, I am no good at it; I much prefer set prices I can read off a tag. The scenario you describe is to an autistic person what three flights of stairs would be to a person using a walker: it might be doable, but the difficulty would be upsetting -- hence, life would not be more enjoyable or richer.



Me too!  For me, the solution to dealing with a milkman used to be to have my own goat.  These days I keep a sack of organic soybeans handy and make soy milk.  I tend to use online shopping, and grow what I can myself to minimise contact with people.  Or send my son out with a shopping list - he copes better around people than I do, though I suspect it's mostly because he's better at ignoring them.  

But to the original question, mostly in my area people grow their own food.  Surplus would be shared out to other villagers, who would share back their surplus.  And the next village has a shop or two which would stock locally grown food to sell to those who needed it.  The village in the other direction still has a cheese maker where you can go to buy cheese, or if you've very honoured he'll bring you some though that tends to stress me a little for various reasons.   He'll also supply lamb, mutton or manure, too.  
 
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