The Grassroots Produce Stand That Runs Itself

Wouldn’t it be great if you could buy and sell the produce you and your neighbors are growing? Often, we grow much more than we need and leave much of it unpicked, to rot on the vine. Now this is fine from the plant’s perspective – they love returning nutrients back to the soil – but what if you could put your excess produce to work for you, and make friends in the process?

This is a romantic idea for many, but few are willing to quit their day jobs and start a produce stand – it’s a mostly seasonal, not extremely profitable business that involves a lot of sitting around, waiting for customers and worrying about expired produce.

But what if every neighborhood had its own produce stand?

Imagine a place in your neighborhood where everyone drops their excess produce – it could be a garage or shed with a few shelves and a refrigerator. A whiteboard lists what’s available, a group text lets everyone share updates through SMS, and money exchanges hands informally through Venmo or another digital payment processor.

In order to succeed, this project needs to require a minimal ongoing time commitment. The neighborhood collaborates to stock the stand, and you simply open in the morning, close at night, and remove old inventory (one of the perks of providing the stand to everyone). You shouldn’t have to rely on heavy advertising to the public – the neighborhood itself provides both supply and demand. Depending on zoning regulations, you may need to run this as a non-commercial project.

What you’ll need:

1. A Building

You’ll need some kind of building – likely a garage or shed, ideally not attached to your house. Have a door you can leave open for guests. Inside the building, you’ll want some shelves, a refrigerator (sometimes you can find a used retail display refrigerator for a few hundred bucks), and maybe a freezer. You’ll also want a whiteboard. Stock the shelves and refrigerator with numbered plastic containers for storing the produce. Or simply stack wooden crates on their sides for instant shelves.

2. Merchandise

Whatever you don’t eat from your garden, place in the produce containers. On the whiteboard, list the number of the container, the date, what it contains, the price per each, and your Venmo account name for people to send you money.

3. Customers

Knock every door in your neighborhood, telling them about the new grassroots produce stand. Anyone who has something to sell can stop by, place them in a bin, and write the item, date, price, and Venmo handle on the whiteboard. Sign them up for Venmo so they can give and take payments, and also get them signed up for GroupMe or another group chat app, so they can alert the group whenever they place something in the market.

4. A workflow

In the morning, open the shop, harvest what you can from the garden, and stock the shelves. Text the group to let them know what you placed on the shelves. Others will do the same. After a certain number of days (3-5) other vendors should return to take their leftover produce, or have an agreement that you will take it or buy it at a significant discount to help pay for the cost of running the stand.

Recommended Supplies:

  • Wooden Crates – Buy from a local hardware store
  • Refrigerator – Ideally a used display refrigerator with a glass front (you can find them on Craigslist), but anything will do
  • Whiteboard or Chalkboard – Cheapest option is to buy a sheet of masonite whiteboard from the hardware store and have it cut to size
  • Plastic containers – For holding refrigerated produce. Number them for identification. Make sure you measure your refrigerator
  • Venmo – Allows neighbors to send each other payments for produce. You won’t need a cash register.
  • GroupMe – Allows neighbors to notify each other when something new has been placed in the market

 

Recommended Reading: The Market Gardener by Jean-Martin Fortier

 

Benefits and additional ideas:

  • Get more people eating and growing fresh food
  • Use up everyone’s surplus produce, instead of letting it go to waste
  • Generate some income for yourself, and anyone in the neighborhood who could use a little more cash
  • Become the social hub for the neighborhood. Maybe put a few couches, a table and chairs, and some games in your shed. You’ll make a bunch of friends. Try hosting informal garden dinners
  • Diversify what you eat – you can start to specialize and share throughout the neighborhood. Not everybody needs a quince tree, but one grower can supply the entire neighborhood.
  • Share recipes. Many people may not be familiar with a particular plant or vegetable. Print off recipe cards and make them available at the stand.
  • In the off-season, share canned goods and other non-perishable foods and crafts.
  • Hold cooking demonstrations and gardening classes. Just make sure you have enough chairs for everyone
  • Once you have a brisk trade going, talk to local organic growers or community gardens and let them know about the market. They may drop off their excess produce if you have space.

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