The Rising Popularity of Roadside Markets

From Strawberry Preserves to Maple Sugar

Hello, again History Lovers,

After falling head over heels in love with the automobile, Americans began road-tripping. And it wasn’t long before rural entrepreneurs found a way to market farm products to passersby. Farmers built stands and started selling homegrown produce from roadside markets, very much like farmer’s markets of today. Some were small with just a few products for sale and others were cooperatives supplied by a number of local farmers offering many different farm products, and of course, all were seasonal.

Mrs. Bess M. Rowe, a journalist for The Farmer’s Wife–A Magazine For Farm Women contributed an article in February 1922 on the thriving roadside market industry in Massachusetts. Orchards in the Mt. Nobscot area supplied peaches, apples, and pears for local markets. Area farmers produced strawberries, vegetables, eggs, honey, and dairy products. Some handmade home goods were also available.

Farmer’s market season in my area begins in June and goes through September. After reading this article I will better appreciate the “living history” aspect of today’s farmer’s markets.

Enjoy!

Massachusetts has ideal conditions for the development of roadside markets. Its numerous towns and cities are connected by splendid state roads which make transportation of products easy and also summon a steady stream of automobiles over these roads.

An astonishing variety of products is disposed of by the owners of these roadside markets, anything and everything from strawberry preserves to roastin’ ears, from maple sugar to braided rugs; passing directly from producer to consumer.

Massachusetts road markets are, naturally, concentrated in a few districts where the conditions are especially favorable. One group is located on the historic road from Concord to Lexington, where a constant procession of automobiles follows the route taken by Paul Revere on his famous ride; another group extends along the coast, south of Quincy.

Good Location and Great Produce

In planning to open a roadside market, certain points in location must be considered if the enterprise is to be a success. As the main dependence is on automobile trade, the market must be located on a road where automobile traffic is heavy and at a point where automobiles can easily park.

Another important point is such arrangement of products and signs or placards to attract the favorable attention of passersby. The most successful stands in Massachusetts have done this by means of attractive signs placed far enough away from the purchasing place so that cars can slow down before reaching the stand. These are often supplemented by signs at the stand itself. Many of these signs are most ingenious and attractive. What honey lover could resist an appeal like this:

Direct selling of farm produce in Massachusetts has been a great success, in many cases, and the plans followed by these marketers can be adapted with equal success in thousands of other places. The main requirements are: to find the right location and furnish what the people want, with due regard for honesty of purpose and for the other fellow’s rights as well as one’s own.

Roadside markets differ as widely as individual stores. Some offer only early or fancy stock. Some maintain an average standard and sell at an average price. As a matter of fact, each one must be adapted to its own locality, giving its own “public” what its own public demands. If the woman of the farm offering goods for sale has the time, she is the best one to deal with women buyers. Her woman’s imagination will stand her in good stead as to ways to make her wares attractive and ways to reach her customers’ minds. There are no set rules to be laid down. Given the good location and sufficient good produce, wits, and industry, tact and patience must do the rest.

Nobscot Mountain Orchard and Roadside Market

This summer the writer had the pleasure of visiting one of the most interesting, as well as one of the most successful roadside markets in Massachusetts, the one connected with the famous Nobscot Mountain Orchards, twenty-three miles from Boston. This fruit farm of eighty acres has 3,000 peach trees, 4,000 apple trees, 1,200 pear trees, and 2,500 quince trees. In 1915, 1916, and 1917, the market specialized in peaches and in these three years took in respectively $1,700, $1,300, and $ 3,400. In 1918 apples, preserves and jellies were added to the list and now in addition to all these, a charming tearoom caters to the comfort of guests the year around.

Current photo of the William Hagar House built circa 1730, home of the Mt. Nobscot Tearoom in the 1920s.

Mt. Nobscot Tea Room

The Mt. Nobscot Tea Room itself is worthy of a whole story. It is in the Hagar House, a historic residence built about 1730. The atmosphere of “the good, old days” has been wonderfully preserved in the old house. The tired motorist who has been attracted by the well-arranged market stand on one side of the road is now tempted to cross over to the tearoom and enjoy tea and a salad, or one of the more substantial dishes which are fast gaining fame for this happily located business.

The front door opens directly into the tearoom, a large colonial room with an enormous four-sided fireplace set diagonally so that each grate faces a corner. On one side there is a Dutch oven. The mantels and cupboards above the grates proclaim their many years of usage.

The back of the house itself is an old porch with a brick floor. Vines grow over it and here the tearoom guest who prefers a garden setting rather than in the house is served.

For the last two years, Mrs. Smerage has had charge of the tearoom. She cans and preserves a portion of the products that are shown in the roadside market stand across the way. During the War, Mrs. Smerage had charge of a community canning kitchen in Topsfield Massachusetts. The exceptionally high standard maintained in this particular kitchen, where they had less than 1% spoilage, won fame for her and after the war work closed, she started work for herself. Two years ago, she had to choose between putting her capital into her business or using it for her son’s education. She chose the latter and came to the Mt. Nobscot fruit farm to take charge of the canning work there and act as manager of the tearoom.

Mrs. Smerage says that the success that has come to her in all her work is due to the high quality she insists on maintaining. At the Mt. Nobscot Orchards, they do not try to sell the first-class fruit and then make quality canned and preserved products from culls. They reverse this order and make all of their canned and preserved stock from first-class products, and this method enables them to sell the products for a fancy price. They know that people will pay a high price for food products if they feel that they are getting their money’s worth. In 1920, Mrs. Smerage supervised the canning and preserving of $1,050 worth of strawberries alone. In 1921, in spite of a bad season, the amount of their strawberry products went up to about $1,400.

Strawberries for sale at a Roadside Stand

The tearoom enables the proprietors to keep business going the year around. The market stand, of course, is open only during the summer months. Although their farm produces only fruit for the market, they show a good variety of vegetables and other products at the stand. These are secured from the neighboring farmers, thus offering them a market for their products and at the same time giving a greater variety and better appearance to the stand. Altogether there is on this farm a well-rounded business that last year sold products amounting to over $12,500. — Bess M. Rowe

~FWM

The above article was originally published in The Farmer’s Wife–A Magazine For Farm Women, February 1922, Page 709; Webb Publishing Company, St. Paul, Minnesota. Articles may be edited for length and clarity.

Cottage Industry Series–Cooking For Cash

Hello, again History Lovers,

Today’s article is another example of the hard work and ingenuity farm women demonstrated while supplementing their family farm income. Mrs. Alta Dunn uses her cooking and baking skills to establish a catering business in a small western town. Quality products and fair pricing are of supreme importance to her. Mrs. Dunn only planned to continue her enterprise during the tough economic times of the early 1920s, I hope at some point their farm became profitable.

Enjoy!

Cooking For Cash

In common with other farm wives, I have needed money for household and personal use, and needed it badly, since the slump in crop prices. What could I do best? The answer came promptly—cook. Then, in a flash, the inspiration came. A businesswoman friend in my hometown had seemed to enjoy my occasional offerings of homemade cookery very much. Why not ask if she would not like to be supplied regularly with some of it. I did. She would, gladly.

First, I made out a list of the foods I wished to prepare for her, figured what each would cost as nearly as possible, and then tried to find out what such articles sold for at the local bakery and at the bake sales of homemade delicacies held frequently by the women of the different churches. Though I considered my product as good as the best, for I used the best materials and never offer for sale anything that is not strictly up to standard, my idea was to strike a compromise between these two in price. Bake sale prices seemed to me to be too high to be just.

I took this list to my friend and we went over it together, item by item, I explained to her just what the quantity and quality of each would be, and that it was my intention to fix a price that she could afford to pay and which would also allow me a fair wage for the time and labor involved. I knew that if the arrangement were to be satisfactory to both and to continue, we must have a thoroughly businesslike understanding from the first. She agreed with me on this. When I bought goods from her store, I bought a certain quantity or weight at a fixed price. I felt that I should be equally exact in selling to her. Despite my need for money, I had no mind to wreck an old and valuable friendship through the unbusinesslike methods which women all too often employ when dealing with each other informally, that is, not over the counter.

When our arrangement was first made, my customer had a standing order for two loaves of bread, a cake or cookies and a dressed chicken to be delivered every Saturday. However, it later proved more satisfactory to both of us to have this an elastic order, modified from week to week, as she can call me by phone at any time. Thus, if she goes out of town for the weekend or I have an unusual press of work, as in haying or threshing time, by mutual consent no order is to be delivered.

Friday, I devote myself to baking. The bread for my customer is a part of my weekly baking for family use, so it makes but little extra work. For a large double loaf weighing two and one-fourth pounds—and dough for bread to sell is always weighed before baking on small spring scales so that there is no guesswork about weight—I received twenty-five cents. This is at the rate charged by the local bakery. Though my bread is superior to bakery goods both in nutriment and palatability, I considered it best to meet their price, as people of moderate income do not usually care to pay fancy prices for such staples.

For a two-layer cake, frosted, I charge $1.25; the same cake baked in a loaf and frosted brings $1. The rule for these cakes if white or marble cake is desired, is: 1 cup sugar, ½ cup butter, 1 cup sweet milk, 2 cups flour, flavoring, 2 teaspoons baking powder, and 4 egg whites stiffly beaten. If baked in layers, I scant the flour a trifle. For marble cake, I take one-third of the batter for the white part; and add coloring to another third, and chocolate or mixed spices to the remainder. If chocolate or gold cake is desired, I use the same rule, substituting 2 whole eggs or 4 yolks for the beaten whites. This makes a delicious, tender cake if carefully mixed and baked.

I use a cream and powdered sugar frosting either white, pink, maple, or chocolate. Any fruit juice may be substituted for cream, beating until frosting is the right consistency to spread.

Large angel food cakes, fruit cakes, plum puddings, and fancy cakes for special occasions are priced according to materials used and labor of making. Birthday cakes, much ornamented, sometimes bring as high as $3, but there is no more profit in them than in the above simple cakes, as they cost so much more both in time and ingredients.

These prices are given merely as a suggestion. They may not be high enough for some localities—or too high for others. I live in the West where long freight hauls from distributing centers make pastry flour, baking powder, extracts, and various other materials considerably higher than in the Middle West.

Since I have been catering for this businesswoman, orders from others have come and the list of goodies has expanded to include salad dressings, boiled ham, salads, cheese, and other delicatessen dishes. I have never yet had a complaint of any kind about my products and I could dispose of more of this cookery if I had time to prepare it without neglecting my other home duties.

If work of this kind is to be profitable it must be carefully managed. In my own case, most of the extra cookery is worked in along with that for home use. My own family is small and that of my chief customer also. This makes it possible for me to divide a large rule for chili con carne, spaghetti and cheese or with tomatoes or in various combinations, baked beans or other “made dishes,” and so provide sufficiently for a meal for both households.

These dishes which form the basis for a one-dish meal are cooked in brown earthenware casseroles and also delivered in these. My first customer has an electric range, so it is a simple matter to reheat food of this sort, as it is ready to slip into the oven when delivered. The made dishes are as a rule prepared on Saturday morning. This provides a substantial noon meal for my own family and insures having my customer’s dish fresh for her evening dinner. Chickens are dressed Friday and kept on ice.

It is surprising how many cakes and cookies and doughnuts may be made by one pair of deft hands in one day by early rising and good management of time and fire. To save time in delivery we “route” the list so as to avoid doubling back if possible. My husband drives the car and either my son or I run inside with the orders. Later I go back to collect. As our town is very small and orders are delivered to places of business, this is more expeditious than collecting as we go along. Where delivery is made to residences, this plan would of course not be practicable.

Though this is merely a sideline with me which I do not expect to continue after “times get better,” such a modest venture as is here outlined might very readily be developed into a profitable little catering business. –Alta B. Dunn

~FWM

The above article was originally published in The Farmer’s Wife–A Magazine For Farm Women, March 1922, Page 786; Webb Publishing Company, St. Paul Minnesota. Articles may be edited for length and clarity.

Cottage Industry–Educated By A Grindstone

Pedal Powered Grindstone

Hello, again History Lovers,

Today’s post is an introduction to a new series I will call Cottage Industry. Through my research, I have come to realize that farm women from a century ago and beyond needed ways to supplement their farm income. Frequently they raised a flock of chickens and sold the eggs or they would use the cream from their milk cows to make butter–both of which they would sell either to individuals or to local markets. Other women used their particular sewing, baking, canning, or gardening skills as a way of bringing in additional income. I am inspired by the industry and creativity of these rural farm women and will share their Cottage Industry stories as they come along.

Today’s story tells of a young widow who used an available grindstone to keep her kitchen knives sharp. Beginning by happenstance, her sharpening skills grew into a thriving business that enabled her to afford to put her sons through college. While growing up, her sons had helped her with the business venture and appreciated the educational opportunity it afforded them.

I would love to know where that grindstone is today. Enjoy!

Educated By A Grindstone

“I’ll be fifty-seven tomorrow,” smiled Mrs. Plaegar, rocking on the veranda of her white and green farmhouse, “and it seems as though it were only a few years ago when the boys were small.”

She sighed again.

“Those were the years when it was hard pulling. My husband died when the children were very young. The farm was heavily mortgaged and we had to stretch the pennies until they fairly squealed. My friends told me I ought to work in my spare time and besides, what could I have done? I could not sew. My fingers had become too clumsy with farm work to handle a needle delicately and work of other kinds would demand that I leave the farm which I could not do.

“Well, things went on for a while. I continued to do the manual work to which I was accustomed. I had always liked a man’s work better than a woman’s and I had quite a knack for handling tools.

“One tool I liked especially was an old grindstone in the barnyard on which I sharpened my knives. One day a neighbor, viewing with envy my shining and keen steel knives said, ‘I wonder if you would be willing to sharpen my knives? You do such splendid work and I would gladly pay you.’

“I consented and that was the beginning of a little business. Other women brought me their knives and scissors and I charged according to the size of the utensils. I used to send the boys to gather them in for me and sometimes they would bring home three or four dozen which they had labeled with the names of the owners. The next day they would return them, bright and sharp. And how farm women need keen tools!

“As my somewhat unique business increased, I bought a polishing machine and I soon received more orders than ever. One order which pleased me especially was from a hotel. They told me their employees were most deficient at polishing steel knives and if I did good work, they would be willing to give all their work to me. With housewives, too, this task is a dreaded one and my bank account began to increase accordingly. I followed up every opportunity and, of course, business brought more business.

“My business never forced me to neglect my farm duties. I always did the work on my own premises where I could oversee the work of the farmhands.

“The boys say they owe their college education to the old grindstone and that is perhaps the reason we never parted with it. To us, it shall always be a much loved and honored member of the family.” –I.R. Hegel

"The boys say they owe their college education to the old grindstone and that is perhaps the reason we never parted with it. To us, it shall always be a much loved and honored member of the family."
~FWM