Truck farms and Farmer’s Stands

The closest “Farmer’s Market” to me at the moment is a good 35 miles and 60 minutes away. But I have alternatives! The “Roadside Stand”: purveyors of local produce. This is what I grew up with, long before the local, sustainable Farmer’s Markets were popping up everywhere. Produce was local – we didn’t have fresh strawberries or peaches in winter, we had lots of rhubarb and asparagus, but only in the spring. But all growing season, from early May when the first greens and berries were available until late fall, when the last greens and winter squash were hanging on through the frosts, the small farmers had roadside stands where they sold their produce.  We had lots of little farms, as I lived in the Endless Mountains (really) and small farms were all that could tuck into the valleys between the stony ground and inaccessible mountainsides. Not inaccessible like out West, I grant you, but too steep for farming. 

There was the lady in Muncy Valley, with a little stand by her house, next to the highway. We’d stop there and she’d have maybe a dozen or two ears of corn, a few squash and tomatoes sitting on the counter. Didn’t look like much. And passers-through would pick those up and buy them. But for her regular customers, when you walked up, exchanged pleasantries, and then said, “I think I’d like a dozen ears of corn”… she would go back to her field behind the house and pick the corn for you while you waited. Not fast, but worth the wait. That was customer service. We weren’t in such a hurry then. In my memory, at least, that is still the best corn I have ever had.

There was the retired gentleman in Picture Rocks who grew gladioli down by the river. He had a stand by his house, next to the (two-lane, 45mph) highway and for a month or two midsummer, he had every color and size of glad you ever dreamed of. He had bouquets of dozens of the same color available, he had dozens of mixed colors, or you could pick you own and make up whatever color combinations, and whatever number of stems, you desired.

Both of them are long gone, but now there is Dincher’s in Tivoli. They have a small barn-type building and do grow and sell their own produce. They also bring in some other produce and baked goods, like biscuits for strawberry or peach shortcake, and sticky buns, which are quintessentially from PA – I have seen recipes called “Philadelphia-style sticky buns”, and those are the ones!), as there is not a grocery close by. But they are careful to specify what is theirs and what isn’t. “Local cherries” “fresh picked sweet corn”. Yes, those words are the key. If the sign just says “sweet corn”, there’s no telling where it’s come from. Or “vine-ripened”. Have you seen the tomatoes-on-a-vine at the grocers? They are usually shipped from far, far away, but are technically vine-ripened. But  for Dincher’s, bringing other foods in extends their selling season and sales, and business is business.

Then there were some more “full-time” business stands. Tebbs had a permanent stand pretty far from their fields, but close to where people lived. They also had incredible bicolor sweet corn, and gave you cooking directions with it, so that you didn’t overcook it and ruin it. They had wonderful huge meaty tomatoes, rich and flavorful, until their fields were flooded badly during a hurricane one year. they still have excellent tomatoes, but not that particular variety. They also have everything else you need: onions and potatoes and green beans and wax beans and yellow squash and zucchini and cucumbers and more, but is season, when the y ripen in the fields. They are still going stong, and I always get strawberries from them when I come in June. This year, it has been so unseasonably warm, that their sweet corn, usually “knee high by the fourth of July” will actually be coming in the last week of June (they had a sign up to tell customers). They sold goods by the bushel, especially beans, corn, and tomatoes,  for canning and freezing.

I know there are others, and the others I stop at occasionally. But just like vendors at the Markets, we develop our own “favorite” produce suppliers.

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