The honor system? Remarkable in this day and age, isn’t it? “Pay what you think is fair.” Really incredible. I will bet, however, that the cash box always evened out at the end of a long day and that nothing was taken without payment.
Last week I stopped at an old favorite, the farm stand on Covered Bridge Road between Unadilla and Wells Bridge. It looks like it was lifted from a John Deere calendar. Pumpkin patch in full bloom, towering sunflowers waving in the breeze. Inside the little shed there was a harvest for sale. Everything big, colorful, juicy and tempting. The surrounding fields were chock-a-block with corn. Tens of thousands of ears of corn. It made my back hurt just looking at it. Inside I gathered up three large cucumbers, three perfect-looking tomatoes and some giant green and yellow peppers. A friendly older gent came over and asked, “Is that it?” I wanted everything, but, yes, I told him that was it.
Now normally, you can go by this farm stand and see the cash box out front to place your money in. But this was a weekend so the old farmer was tending the stand himself. “How much?” I asked. He thought for a minute and said, “How about $4?”
I wanted to say, “No way!” I wanted to say, “I’ll pay what I thought was fair,” like the signs of my youth. I wanted to say, “How about $8?” I wanted to pay for more than just a bag of produce. I wanted to pay for a way of life, a slice of Americana, a nostalgic touchstone to the past. But I knew the old guy would just say, “It’s only $4, sir” so I paid it.
As I drove away, I surveyed the immense complexity of this man’s farm. Barns, silos, huge old farmhouse, acres of corn as far as the eye can see. Both sides of the road. Lowing cows, blackbirds overhead looking for “gifts.” I thought about how much work goes into this operation day after day, year after year, generation after generation. Here, and at every one of the vanishing farms in our area. How the morning starts and the family heads out to work harder in one day than I will work in a month.