Living on an Island can seem closed off from the rest of the world, sometimes leaving you itching to reach the mainland so you can go faster than 45 miles per hour. But it does have its benefits: we leave our cars unlocked with the keys in the ashtray and our doors wide open.
And we use the honor system at unattended farm stands across the Island.
There’s something romantic about the honesty boxes that are so unique to small communities like the Vineyard, coming and going as you please without the hustle and bustle of a busy grocery store or waiting in lines at the Farmers’ Market. It’s easy, it’s convenient, and if you don’t have exact change you can leave an IOU in the cash box and return the next day to repay. And because you sometimes buy from people you don’t know, there’s an equal amount of trust put in the producer and purchaser.
The Gazette left notes in several honesty boxes across the Island, asking them to share their experiences selling their produce using the honor system.
Several days later, one returned the call. “It’s unbelievable in this day and age how honest people are,” a honey-maker on Middle Road said earlier this week. “Sometimes we have a bad run . . . usually what happens is it’s one person, but the people are just wonderful how honest they are.”
The honey-maker has a small folding table set out with jars of honey and stems of dahlias for sale; customers deposit their money into a lockbox. Before the lockbox, the honey-maker used a can. “Sometimes they put in zero, sometimes a dollar, and for a pound of honey it’s $7.95 so sometimes they put in $10,” he said. “If they put a note in the box and sign their name, there will be money [eventually].”
Down the road at Mermaid Farm, Caitlin Jones said for the most part the system works, although sometimes in August they encounter problems. “Most of the time it’s fine,” she said of their small stand on Middle Road. “People leave IOUs, leave notes. They always pay off their IOUs. It’s usually really, really good.”
Ms. Jones and Mr. Healy have a box on the stand’s table labeled Cash Box which allows customers to make change for themselves. Ms. Jones collects the cash at least eight times a day.
“We’re always sort of around and it works better,” she said, adding that her husband checks on the stand every once in awhile when she’s not around.
Sometimes she finds people eating the golden cherry tomatoes. “They usually just take stuff — like flowers — that’s one some people feel that they don’t need to pay for,” she said. “They haven’t taken my money yet,” she added, knocking on the wood table.
Some farmers have put in surveillance cameras to catch less-than-honest people at the honesty boxes. But Native Earth Teaching Farm and North Tabor Farm on North Road simply post reminders on small blackboards at their stands.
“Please be honest,” reads one at North Tabor Farm. North Tabor provides both a change box that is left open and a deposit box that is locked. Every item is priced individually, making it easier for customers to pay the correct amount. Brown bags of tomatoes have the price written on the bag. This week there was a basket of fresh garlic at $1 a head.
At Native Earth, the blackboard on the simple wood-framed, self-serve farm stand reminds customers: “Please write down purchase and leave money in can,” and “Thanks for making the honor system work.” A scale is provided for peppers, beans, squash, flowers, herbs and tomatoes.
Not everyone is honest. “There’s definitely been some thievery but we have a lock on our box now because of it,” said Debby Farber from Blackwater Farm on Lambert’s Cove Road. “Lately it seems to be better . . We’ve talked about putting a camera up in there because we’re too busy to do anything about it . . . I work so hard and it’s not a lot of money and it hurts my feelings. If I didn’t work so hard it might be different. It’s a few dollars and it’s a lot to me.”
One loyal customer is Cathy Tashman, who buys from Ms. Farber’s stand every day. “I always sign my name,” Mrs. Tashman said. “I pay, I always pay.”
Mrs. Tashman said she hasn’t bought an egg from a grocery store in 15 years. “I know the eggs are $4; I come prepared. Every once in 10 years I owe you a dollar and I come back the next day,” she said. “If I couldn’t come and get eggs and everything else from you I don’t know what I would do . . . We value having the farm within walking distance of us. We love it.”
Mourning the Loss of Moxie
Alan Healy at Mermaid Farm in Chilmark reports that one of his dairy cows was struck and killed on Middle Road last week after a woman let her dog off a leash at an abutting land bank property. Mr. Healy said the husky chased his cows across his field, through the fence and into the road where one cow was hit by a van.
“They’re our pets so it’s pretty hard to have a pet get hit by a car,” he said. “The sad part was that she was carrying a calf, so we were looking forward to that.”
Mr. Healy is purchasing four Jersey cows on Wednesday off-Island, aiming to increase dairy production in the coming months.
This column is meant to reflect all aspects of agriculture and farm life on the Vineyard. Remy Tumin may be contacted at 508-627-4311, extension 116, or e-mail her at email@example.com