By Amanda West/ photos by Amanda West
Sometimes getting a hold of fresh local products means taking advantage of buying something when the opportunity suddenly presents itself. Recently I was exploring some back roads in Faquier County and came on a roadside sandwich board sign reading “farm fresh eggs – self serve” Speed reading this sign at 40 mph, and making a speed decision, I slowed and did a u turn, doubling back and turning into the side road.
Next to the sign was a cooler, chained to another sign so it couldn’t run away. Inside were eggs from Helen’s Hens of the Plains, Virginia. Inside the cooler was a money box bolted to the cooler, a jar for change, and the eggs. The eggs were pasture raised, and a leaflet from Helen’s Hens told all about how the hens were raised with care, pastured and fed with quality products. It also included a photo of the happy hens by their chicken tractor and information from Mother Earth News study on why pastured eggs are more nutritious. At $4 a dozen, I was happy that I had cash in my wallet to take some home.
This got me thinking: as a consumer, we locavores have to be spontaneous at times to take advantage of local foods when we discover them. Making u turns, slowing for farm stands, keeping cool bags in your car just in case, taking a chance on a handwritten sign on a driveway that promises goat milk: these are all the hallmarks of someone who treasures local food products. Thankfully, as they become more popular, one doesn’t have to rely solely on the spontaneous local source for local food. But it sure is fun doing so – and it makes for good story telling.
However, it also got me thinking about how local food producers have had to do the same thing: take advantage of a tiny niche of exposure on byways and busy roads. I’m sure Helen’s Hens isn’t the first to do the roadside cooler, but it’s a remarkable indication of creativity in taking advantage of getting a tiny slice of market. It’s also relatively low risk, just the costs of the cooler, a sandwich board sign and a small supply of eggs. Relying on local honesty to pay for your eggs on the honor system is intrinsic to it working. Its also taking advantage of more lax rural zoning and regulations, where a roadside cooler is either lawful or ignored.
Helen’s was also taking advantage of this micro market to market her eggs to potential customers. Her flier was well done, with health reasons why to buy them, description of how her hens are raised, and information on how to get your eggs delivered in the future. The idea: buy a dozen here and maybe become a weekly customer.
It was a nice combination of rural lifestyle traditions with technology and creativity – all components necessary for making local food work in our economy. Here’s to more great local producer ideas for more u turns!
Have you had a great u turn moment for local food? Let us know in your comments.
Amanda West’s interest for local farming stems from summers spent on a West Virginia family farm and has combined with other passions in local historic preservation, preserving the rural landscape and its culture, and keeping economies local, not global. With over two decades of non-profit experience primarily in historic preservation and community development, she is currently taking a sabbatical from work to explore locally sustainable farming, food and economies. She looks forward to encountering and learning from the people, places and initiatives in this multi-faceted field which brings together so many sectors of society, along with seeing where the next chapter of her life may take her.
You can read more posts from Amanda on her blog with Martina White, entitled agrowingseason.