Spring is in full swing here in the Mid-Atlantic. The danger of frost is pretty much past, which means no more obsessively checking the weather forecast and fretting over row covers for tender seedlings, or scrambling to lug flats of tomatoes and peppers indoors each night as the temperatures drop. The trees are in full leaf, the grass is lush and everywhere you turn something new is coming into bloom. The abundance of the season also means that late winter and early spring plantings of radishes, carrots, lettuce, mustard and more are beginning to reach harvest stage—which means I’m ready to start selling!
This will be the fourth season for our little roadside market stand. We’re moving this year, placing the stand at the family farm, which lies at the intersection of our not-so-busy little back road and a considerably more well-traveled back road. More traffic will hopefully equal more sales. But, the new, more prominent spot has also got us feeling a little self-conscious about the simple, bare-bones nature of our current stand, so this weekend is being spent painting a new sign and building some nice, tiered shelves to showcase our garden’s produce. I’m hitting the thrift shops on Monday to find a nice, checkered tablecloth and some ornamental baskets to pretty it up a little and help it stand out from the crowd. And, around here at least, there really is a crowd—and lots of competition!
Our stand is like many others in the area. Every summer, farmers and gardeners put out their wares by the side of the road with a table, a little sign, and an honor system pay jar. These farm stands have been a part of the local landscape for as long as I can remember and there are at least five within three miles of my own front door. It’s a wonderful part of the local culture to know that each summer, a favorite little shop will open down the road, run by a neighbor and stocked with great food grown a literal stone’s throw from home.
Our local roadside stands come in all sizes and many forms. Some are just a little card table by the road with a few baskets of zucchini and beans. Some are year-round affairs with bushels of vegetables overflowing the large, covered stands and a couple of giant greenhouses at the back of the house. The owners of these stands range from home gardeners to full-time farmers and they can be found in town limits and way out in the country down a winding back road. The goods offered for sale run from the popular, old standby vegetables—yellow crookneck squash, watermelons, zucchini and tomatoes—to more exotic new vegetables (to this little rural community, at least) like kohl rabi, Japanese eggplant and lemon cucumbers. Some stands offer local honey collected right on site. Others offer ornamental perennials, trees and shrubs or herb and vegetable starts.
One of my very favorite stands to visit is about three miles from my home. It has a three-sided walk-in setup, so it’s like walking into a little country store. There is always a great variety of unique vegetables that no other stand is offering, like Patty Pan squash, an old-fashioned variety or scallop squash that I had never seen before discovering it at this stand some years back. Back in 2002 when I first discovered this little place, it was staffed by an older gentleman, the gardener-farmer himself. He was wonderful to talk to and always happy to answer questions about his produce. He was one of the few that sold his own local honey from his own hives. He’s no longer sitting at the stand in the summer, but it remains open. It also offers daylilies, hosta, iris and an assortment of trees as potted plants. The garden where all this bounty comes from is within sight of the stand. When it comes to knowing where your food came from, you can’t get much better than that!
Joya Parsons is the owner and principal operator of Quite Contrary Gardens Homestead in Sussex County, Delaware. A former IT professional and US Navy veteran, she has spent the last ten years learning the art of organic growing and sustainable living. She is working within her own community to make a local, sustainable food system a reality through education, outreach and example. If she’s not outside getting her hands in the dirt or tending her chickens, she can normally be found with her nose in the latest issue of Mother Earth News.