Too many tomatoes? Bursting with berries? Open your own Farm Stand!

May…like a butterfly she flits up and down, undecided just where she will land. She teases with warm Spring showers, then surprises us with frosty nights that feel like late October. Each day May dances somewhere between sun-kissed celebrations and cozy sweater-weather.

In my part of the Midwest, Mother Nature is decidedly undecided. There have been days when windows are open wide and the sweet scent of freshly-mown grass drifts in, while last night, the temperature was flirting with near freezing. Up & down temperatures are the norm for the merry month of May, but we know with certainty that sooner or later she’ll decide to settle in…warm weather will reign. There will be butterflies, fireflies, and garden gatherings. Then, before long. the anticipated taste of just-picked tomatoes and sweet corn will be ours!

Giddy with excitement over the thought of fresh salsa and pickled hot peppers, each May I plant a garden…seeds and plants are arranged in rows, tomato stakes are firmly in the ground, and sprinklers set in place. Lastly, to watch over and protect it all, a scarecrone (lady scarecrow in an apron!) is standing guard. I take a step back, look, and then think: “What’s one more?”  So a few more plants find their way into the garden. You know where this is going…tell me, am I the only one who finds themselves swimming in zucchini and tomatoes by summer’s end?

What’s the solution? Well, obviously restraint in my line of thinking, “What’s one more?” However; a few years ago, I decided it might be time to think about a little farm stand. Unlike the weekly Farmers’ Market on the town square, my own little roadside market would allow me to share extras of what was fresh and in-season each week. I could set my own days and hours, and friends & neighbors could stop by whenever they saw the stand at the end of my gravel drive.

So I got started…out came a folding table that was dressed up with a colorful tablecloth. I dusted off an old window that had been tucked in the barn, and secured a couple of smaller windows on each side. A vintage chalkboard listed prices and a red mailbox became an Honor Box to hold money. I set the table in a shaded grassy spot and filled paper bags with tomatoes, peppers, small potatoes, bundles of herbs, whatever was extra that week. Then I slipped a little recipe card in each bag. My first customer stopped by before I finished setting up!

If you find yourself with extra veggies, fruit, flowers, herbs, or berries, you can absolutely do the same thing! Use tables like I did, or make something more permanent with wooden boards or pallets. How about using a spare wagon that’s easy to move? Even a wheelbarrow will work. Do you want to add a tent-like roof to keep rain and sun off your goodies, or do you already have a sheltered spot to set up in? 

Flowers can be arranged in glass pop bottles, canning jars, or milk bottles. Pile veggies in baskets, bowls, enamelware buckets, or crates. Bunch herbs together with rubber bands or twine and put them in a bucket of cool water to stay fresh. Herbs could also be bundled up and sold hanging from a wooden drying rack. The ideas are endless, be as creative as you like! 

For me, living outside the city limits, the farm stand rules are a bit more relaxed, but I still wanted to call my local health department and the Department of Agriculture to ask questions. Before you begin, you’ll want to be safe and check first to see if there are any restrictions where you live; each state has its own “must follow” list. 

After a couple of summers with the roadside stand, I thought I might like to also offer bread, cookies, pies, and other home-baked goods. I didn’t want them outside in the summer heat, and there was the problem of pesky insects and other critters who might find an afternoon snack just too tempting to pass up.

Fortunately our state has terrific Cottage Food laws (Cottage Foods are home-made food items that don’t require bakers to have a commercial kitchen). I read through the instructions, making sure I knew what was expected – such as specific label and packaging guidelines. I began brainstorming…I couldn’t open a shop, but I could have a place for customers to pick up their Cottage Foods, and the 1950’s milkhouse on the farm seemed like just the right spot.  

The milkhouse was in rough shape (I’ll spare you the pictures!), but I decided not to try for perfection, but rather to keep its original feel from over 70 years ago. I began by pulling out odds & ends the previous owner had left. I bagged trash and recycled what I could. I swept, dusted, scraped paint, scrubbed floors, and washed windows. Finally, it looked like it might come together when my local hardware store was able to match the original interior paint; it’s amazing what a fresh coat of paint can do! 

Decorating the milkhouse was next and so fun…I found items tucked away in the basement, as well as hidden gems in the barn that just needed dusting off. A few things from a mercantile shop in a nearby town, and it began to click!

Plans to rewire for electricity turned out to be more involved than expected, so in keeping with the homespun feel, I put oil lamps and twinkle lights around the room. A friend gifted me with a terrific corner cupboard and some sweet aprons. Old treasures found in the barn got new life…vintage screen doors, original house windows, wooden tables, orchard ladders, and retro clocks. I kept it all simple…feed sacks became curtains, a rusty kerosene stove was filled with fairy lights, candles were put in the windows, and two rocking chairs went side-by-side just waiting for an old-fashioned chin-wag. 

I finally took a leap of faith last summer and hosted an open house for friends & neighbors. While we enjoyed time catching up, everyone sampled cookies, breads, pies, and jams. I asked for honest opinions, took notes, jotted down ideas, and went to work. For a week I baked, packaged, baked some more, and sorted veggies.

It was time…I opened the milkhouse door, flipped the sign to OPEN, then waited. 

Maybe it was the polka-dot bunting at the end of the drive, maybe it was word of mouth, or maybe it was the sound of toe-tapping fiddle music on the breeze. Then again, maybe it was just good fortune, but soon, neighbors visited, out-of-towners stopped by, and family & friends cheered me on. 

That was last summer, and next month it will be time to open again. Not only was that old milkhouse a spot for sharing my Cottage Foods, it became something more…a  place for sharing a slice of pie with friends. Friends who sat next to me in a rocking chair for a chit-chat about this & that.

As the saying goes, when life hands you lemons, make lemonade. If you find yourself with tons of tomatoes, plentiful peppers, or excess eggs, why not try your hand at opening a roadside stand this summer?  

Maybe you have berry bushes that are bursting with fruit…

or oodles of blooming flowers…

or maybe you have happy bees that have gifted you with jars and jars of honey!

All of these are terrific for a pop-up sale. Just set up a mini farm stand and see if you like it. You can stay close if you’d like to greet customers, or use a Honor Box…I’ve found that works just fine for me.

Truly, your farm stand doesn’t need to be fancy, just start with a table, add a pop of color with either a tablecloth, flowers, or even a few balloons to get noticed. Make an eye-catching sign – drivers only have a jiffy to decide if they want to stop. Let friends and neighbors know you’re open for business, put flyers on bulletin boards, announce it in a neighborhood app,…shout it from the coop-tops! 

So many people are looking for fresh, local, in-season items, but don’t want to commit to a long-term CSA. Give a roadside stand a try – hang your shingle! I know you can do it…you’ve got that farmgirl, can-do spirit! 

  1. TheCrankyCrow says:

    I couldn’t love this post more! Each and every one reminds me of the nostalgic sights, tastes, and feel of growing up in a simpler time and a simpler way. Your little milkhouse stand looks amazing. I’d be a way-too-frequent visitor. Wish someone would do that in these parts! ~Robin~

    • Mary Murray says:

      Oh Robin, you say the nicest things…I’d love to have you as a “way-to-frequent” visitor! Hmmm, take a look around next time you’re out and see if there’s not a little produce stand nearby, it might be just off a main road and a little hard to spot. I hope you can find one. And I agree…I’m drawn to those sweet, simple ways as well – kindred spirits!

  2. Kim Steckler says:

    Your milkhouse baked goods shop looks so inviting! You did a great job of revamping and repurposing. I wish I could stop by, but it would be a bit of a drive (I live in Arizona)! I can at least enjoy the photos.

    • Mary Murray says:

      Thanks Kim for the kind words…the before pictures are a bit scary! I love that we get the chance to visit here, even though it’s across the miles…we can still share ideas and cheer each other on!

  3. Debbie Fischer says:

    Mary, I love your Farm Stand and the Milk house, so Farmgirl and cheerful. I certainly would stop for a visit sit a spell and chat if I lived in your area. And who doesn’t love home grown veggies and apple pie.
    Enjoy your summer and have fun with your new Venture.

    • Mary Murray says:

      Hi Debbie – thank you for stopping by! I have a friend who grew up on a dairy farm, so it was terrific to have her nearby to answer questions about items I found in the milkhouse. And I love that saying: “sit a spell” we don’t hear that nearly enough, and it’s something that we could all do more often… a good, old-fashioned stress reliever! Thanks for the reminder.

  4. Sylvia Jacobus says:

    Wished I lived nearby!

    • Mary Murray says:

      Awww, thanks Sylvia…see if you can’t find a roadside stand near where you live. I guarantee the gal (or guy!) who runs it would love to tell you all about their veggies or flowers, and maybe there’s a home-baked pie just waiting to go home with you!

  5. Lynette says:

    What a wonderful story. I love your ideas and wish I lived in the country to set up a farm stand.

    • Mary Murray says:

      Hi Lynette – double-check your local guidelines, some farm stands are set up in suburban areas, too! Think of it like an old-fashioned lemonade stand, only with your extra veggies, Mason jars of flowers, or baked goods. It’s always best to see what the local restrictions are, but I see little tables set up along the sidewalk in town with loaves of bread, tomatoes, and even mini pies for sale. No matter where we live, we can bring some of the country right to our own front yard!

  6. Krista Butters Davis says:

    Mary, this blog post is wonderful! I would love to have a farm fresh stand in the future. In the past my only extra item was zucchini lol! This year I am hoping to have a lot more with my expanded garden. Once I can officially figure out what my family needs and what I am able to can, then I can start considering a farm stand. I am so happy it has worked out great for you. Good luck with your cute store again this year.

    • Mary Murray says:

      Krista, thanks for making me smile, I’m so glad you enjoyed my “tons of tomatoes” adventure! Once you have your family’s food storage needs decided, your extra zucchini is a perfect way to start a sweet little stand. You don’t need to have oodles of variety to offer, you will be known as the farmgirl who has the best zucchini in town!

  7. Staci D says:

    I love roadside stands. There’s something so sweet about them and it seems there is always something good!! Your ideas are wonderful, and your descriptions make them come alive in my mind as I read this post. I’m so happy for you that your “not shop” shop has worked out well. And your redecoration of the milkhouse looks great! Thanks for sharing on your blog that you are writing here. I just love reading any of your posts!

    • Mary Murray says:

      Staci, thank you so much for stopping by…truly, I’m always learning from you! There were days last year the “not shop” was quiet, but I’m hoping I learned what neighbors like best, and to focus on those items this year. Until then, the recipe testing continues…which is not the best thing for my waistline!

  8. Dori Troutman says:

    Hi Mary!!

    I love this post so much. Roadside farmstands are my favorite! The farmstand that my daughter and I have for our flower farm is such a hit for people… probably because it is honor system and just so quick and easy to stop, grab your flowers, and go. I love it.

    Your photos are gorgeous!!! I love it all!



    • Mary Murray says:

      Hi Dori – Thanks for your kind words! I pinned an adorable photo of your farm fresh flower stand (LOVE the truck bed, it’s so clever!) long before I had the fun of “meeting” you here; what are the chances?! I agree…people like the idea of “grab & go” when they’re short on time. Some days I’ll set a dressed-up retro sink cabinet at the edge of the drive with baskets of veggies, but most often I stay in the milkhouse…it’s just fun to chat with folks!

      • Dori Troutman says:

        Oh that’s so cool!!! We were meant to know each other! :-).

        I do like chatting with people when they get our flowers too! Usually each morning when we stock the flower stand, there are people waiting and it is always fun to chat a minute!

  9. Cathy says:

    How wonderful! But lots of hard work with lots of satisfying results. WE do have a farm stand about a mile from us and I am always happy to see him open in the spring. He has gotten locals that want to sell some baked goods share a space in his stand.
    a wonderful article and now I want one of my own lol.

    • Mary Murray says:

      Hi Cathy, I just have to keep learning what customers want most…although my kids will always eat any sweet treats left at the end of the day! (well, me too) So glad you have one nearby…it’s not only great for all of his friends & neighbors, it really helps support the seller. YOU can do it…your bread machine has been working overtime and you also have such lovely flowers! See what your local regulations are and give it a try…there’s no commitment, just whenever you want to…keep me posted!

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