By Sari Kamin
Make the long and dusty drive up Hurley Mountain Road in Kingston, New York, and you’ll be rewarded with the R.O. Davenport and Sons Farm Stand, a small roadside folding table filled with groaning piles of sweet corn, baskets of green zucchini, and bushels of plump strawberries. When I visited the farm stand over the 4th of July holiday weekend, my friend Maria and I loaded our bags with ears of corn, bushy romaine lettuce, and sugar snap peas for that night’s dinner. A hand-painted sign indicated the prices, but there was no one on-site to collect our cash.
I noticed my friend silently counting our cobs. She dug into her wallet for crumpled dollar bills that she then stuffed into a wooden box with a small slot attached to the roadside folding table. “What are you doing?” I asked her in disbelief. “It’s an honor system,” she replied. A man pulled up in a pickup truck, grabbed an armful of corn, and asked if either of us could break a $20 bill. We fished around but came up short. “Dang,” he responded and put half of his bounty back on the table.
The R.O. Davenport and Sons Farm Stand has been operating on the honor system for almost five years, and “it seems to work,” says co-owner Doug Davenport. When they first opened the farm stand just down the road from their full-scale farm, Doug and his brother Bob entreated their daughters to oversee daily operations. After one season, the daughters got bored of spending their summer days waiting for customers and found excuses to return to the main farm.
The idea to implement the honor system was inspired by a long history of farm stands that operate on trust. In fact, Davenport says local farm stands have relied on the honor system for hundreds of years.
For the family-owned farm operation, it’s a win-win: the financial burden of hiring staff on the payroll is eliminated, and customers get the psychological satisfaction of being entrusted to do the right thing. Furthermore, Davenport believes that patrons enjoy the hassle-free experience of shopping without having to interact with a clerk. “They just love it,” he says of the local clientele. “They enjoy not having to deal with anybody. They just do their thing, and they’re in and out in a few minutes.”
For now, Davenport is content selling the surplus daily fruits and vegetables at the stand that don’t go directly to wholesale accounts. “We’re known for our sweet corn,” he tells me. “It’s a way to get it out there.”
Davenport confesses that the stand’s proximity to the main farm is what puts him at ease. “It’s almost like we are there but not quite,” he says. To his knowledge, no one has ever stolen money or produce, but he admits that if his farm weren’t so close by, he likely wouldn’t operate the stand. He’s also a little concerned about the new wave of city folks moving upstate and concedes that while the farm benefits from the steady traffic, “the more people that find out about it, the more chances there are of attracting the wrong people.”
Robert O. Davenport and Sons Farm Stand
2100 Hurley Mountain Road
Kingston, NY 12401
Photos: Chia Messina