Honor System Farms: Feast or Famine

Every Sunday before we head out to stock up for the week at our local farmer’s market, we stop at the farm at the end of our road. The farmer sells eggs, vegetables, and assorted odds and ends. We bring back our empty egg crates and place them in the community basket. Then we take what we need and write down what groceries we took (so the farmer can keep track of what she needs to restock). The allotted few dollars is deposited in the cash can. If we happen to come at the end of the day, the cash can is brimming with bills. Visitors can clearly figure out the etiquette of the honor system.

The honor system is a philosophically driven way to sell goods that relies solely on the integrity of others. Farm stands use the honor system to keep costs down. Most would agree that honor system driven farms also provide a warm and welcoming feeling to its customers. Generally, if you treat someone with respect and trust, they will return the favor by being honest.

In Vermont’s Addison County the farmers respond enthusiastically to the honor system, “Customers like that they can pull in, grab what they need, and go. When they come home at the end of the day in the summer, they’ll often find most of the vegetables gone and their till full, so they rush out to pick another round of fresh vegetables for the evening crowd.”

When I Googled “honor system farms,” there were many stories recounted like the one above, but there were a few sad stories that headlined like this: “Honor System Thefts Close Such and Such Farm.” One farmer in New Hampshire ran into this trouble. Retired from the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, farmer Charlie Ireland planted six acres of vegetables and had been growing corn, tomatoes, beans and “you name it” behind his home and selling it from a stand out in front of his home for four years. But, he had to close his farm stand last summer because of theft. “Anywhere from 50 to a hundred bucks a day — all summer,” Ireland said was stolen from his farm stand, where passersby slipped cash into a box in exchange for his bumper crop.

Is the honor system alive and well in your neck of the woods? Does it work or is it an easy target for thieves?

Join A CSA To Go Sustainable This Spring
15 Reasons to Eat Organic Food
Resolve to Support a Healthier Food System
7 Reasons to Grow Your Own Food


Cheryl B.
Cheryl B6 years ago

This wouldn't work in my area... too many dishonest people, but glad it works in some places

Cheryl B.
Cheryl B6 years ago

This wouldn't work in my area... too many dishonest people, but glad it works in some places

Sailor H.
Past Member 6 years ago

There are some farmers/gardeners who use the honor system on the eastern shore of Maryland and in Delaware--- they take advantage of beach traffic!

Teresa Wlosowicz
Teresa W6 years ago

thank you

J.L. A.
JL A6 years ago

No pure honor system ones left...but some left somewhat unattended, with someone coming before vehicles depart usually

Annmari Lundin
Annmari Lundin7 years ago

I have now tried 10 times to not get updates on this posting. It doesn't matter how many times I uncheck, the comments keep coming anyway. So, how do I get rid of these postings filling up my inbox?

Kristina C.
Kristina C7 years ago

What a great way of shopping - one can only dream about her ein FL. The nonor system would never work here.

Lynn C.
Past Member 7 years ago

Thanks for the article.

Danuta Watola
Danuta Watola7 years ago

Great article.

Carol P.
Carol P7 years ago

The fact that our society hasn't dissolved into complete chaos assures me that the mass majority of people don't commit crimes. But the small percentage does cause considerable damage and harm.

Though I love the idea of an honor system, I can only imagine it working in a small, close-knit community.

Rather than leave cash behind, in cases where theft is a problem, couldn't the farmer ask for IOUs and send an invoice instead, or some other system that doesn't require cash be left behind? Though I'm sure I'm falling prey to some stereotype by saying this, but I can't imagine that criminals (most likely teens) would find healthy food alone alluring enough to stop.

And if that didn't work, perhaps the customers could donate to help purchase security cameras.