17 Jun 2020
by Kathi Ferguson
The signs of summer are many on Delmarva. But for me, the opening of roadside produce stands becomes front and center. Being able to indulge in such a plethora of fresh local fruits and vegetables throughout this long awaited season is well worth the wait.
While driving along a route that once served as the backbone of small towns, there is usually a produce stand to discover. Some appear out of nowhere, when a U-turn is quickly warranted, while most are anticipated with several hand-lettered signs featuring their wares—Lopes, Local Corn, Tomatoes, Cukes, Watermelon, and yes, sometimes the either loved or loathed Lima Beans! As for the sign makers, red or black spray paint on jagged plywood seems the media of choice.
The stands themselves have their own personality. Designed for utility, they range from a tiny wooden structure with a roof on wheels to a larger, often hand built stand, with bushel baskets lined up along the shelves and a scale hanging from a rafter. Some go the distance and have a cement floor along with a few simple walls. Wooden tables hold produce boxes, and a list of offerings is randomly written on a chalk board. A handful of local kids typically get hired for the summer here, and for the regular customers who return each season, it is like a family reunion. In addition to helping folks find the juiciest peach, a cantaloupe that is just right, or tomatoes ready for a BLT, stories are exchanged and new friendships are forged.
Occasionally, there is the seller who pulls in to a patch of available gravel under a tree, lowers the truck tailgate, and displays their goods. Every so often, you will run across the no frills table and chairs strategically placed on a front lawn where you might find jars of honey and jelly for sale amidst the featured home grown peaches. And, yes, a handful of stands still go unattended, operating on the self-serve honor system. Prices are handwritten on cardboard; buyers make their selections and slip their payment into a cash box. How civilized!
Roadside produce stands have been in operation for generations, proudly selling what is grown on the family farm and local gardens. May we continue to take delight in discovering them and the simple pleasures they have to offer. Just follow the signs!