In the late Spring, the back roads and little byways of America become a veritable bazaar of the homemade and homegrown roadside stand.
Picture your own roadside stand spaced at intervals between cultivated fields, plunked down at the foot of gravel driveways on extending out from a barn, small makeshipft stands with terse, mostly hand-printed signs out fron invite the passing motorist to pause.
“FRESH GRADE-A EGGS — $1 A DOZEN
PURE MAPLE SYRUP
STRAWBERRIES — $5.99 ALL YOU CAN PICK”
These are America’s roadside stands, a moveable feast of sweet corn; fresh green beans; baskets of tomatoes, plummy red and big as softballs; Jersey white potatoes; wheels of tangy Vermont cheddar; jugs of fresh-pressed cider; jars of hone, jams and jellies.
In an age of giant supermarkets, America still carries on a shameless love affair with these tiny roadside stands that come and go with the seasons, and regularly outdo the large chains in both quality and bargain prices.
Nobody knows the name of the enterprising individual who first stacked some fruits and vegetables on a table in fron of a farmhouse, thereby creating the first such market.
Whoever it was, he or she was undoubtedly a visionary, since the institution is now virtually everywhere.
It has grown and evolved from the simple stand into the ingenious “Pick-It-Yourself” operations and even bigger, more sophisticated farmers’ markets that may feature tours and buggy rides, cider pressing, and corn-shelling competitions as come-ons.
The phenomenon of the roadside stand may have first occured in the second decade of the last century, coincidental with the emergency of the automobile industry, when city families lucky enough to own their own car began the custom of taking Sunday drives into the country.
Shortly, these same city folk were doubtless driving up to farmhouses and inquiring if they couldn’t buy butter, eggs, cheese and vegetables, fresher and better than at the corner grocery and for lower prices.
Since produce is perishable, prices at such stnds have always been highly flexible.
What is most plentiful is the cheapest, and an oft-quoted saying of the business is “As the sun goes down, so do the prices.”
The number of these roadside markets may be estimated as less scattered throughout the country, but their popularity is starting to grow.
While there is presently a trend toward bigger and more professional operations, the small mom-and-pop establishments, passed on like a family heirloom from one generation to the next, still hold some escapable charm for countless people.
There is something infinitely reassuring about buying corn, for instance, from the same small stand year after year.
Then, too, customers feel they are returning to a time that was simpler and more gracious.
Folks seem friendlier at a roadside stand or a farmers’ market.
The shopper feels somehow closer to the Earth, not surprisingly, when some of that good Earth is still clingin to the smooth sides of tomatoes, cucumbers are mercifully unwaxed, and corn silk is wet from the morning dew.
Roadside stands make us all feel more in touch with our roots.
Image by Zipnon