Saturday, September 02, 2006

Martha's Vineyard farm stands

The many roadside stands selling fresh produce and other homemade items are one of the island's most attractive features. And in July and August, the vegetables are a wonder -- those of us who live in California may provide much of the nation's produce, but we seldom encounter a "real" tomato such as those readily available here. In addition to produce, locals sell their flowers, honey, and sometimes paintings and craft items.

The "system" at the farm stands is one of the quaint charms the island offers, part of its precariously balanced combination of working agriculture and rich peoples' playground.

Farmers can't afford to staff their stands -- they have work to do at harvest time. So most stands work on some variant of an honor system. The goods sit in view at the stand; customers make their choices, weigh their own bags, and leave payment in a box, all without seeing the owner.

Some stands and their trappings:

Though seller and buyer don't often meet, it can feel very personal.

Customer making change for herself.

Some farmers are less trusting.

Unfortunately there is reason for their concern.

In fact, this pattern of pilferage turned out to be ongoing. The mores of the mainland world, in which we neither know nor can trust our neighbors, are encroaching fast.

Much about this island's charm is precarious. After my two months in this improbable place, I join the old timers in hoping that its equilibrium somehow survives the cohabitation of bucolic simplicity with extreme wealth.

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