Where Farm Stands Are Built on Trust

Last week, I was back in the coastal farming community that I call home, Tiverton/Little Compton, Rhode Island. Amazingly enough, this bucolic place manages to stay old-fashioned, mostly because it is out-of-the-way, but also because it is owned by old farmers, rich people, and townies, all of whom seem content.

The Honor System

I am happy to report that several self-serve roadside farm stands are operating there. Be it berries, tomatoes, dahlias, sunflowers, eggs, bread, or whatever else, this is how it works: the customer drives up, reads the signage, makes a selection, tallies the purchase, and leaves the money in the cash box. The retail business operates of itself while the farmer tends the farm.

As it turns out, trusted people don’t steal. In a story, The Psychology of the Honor System at the Farm Stand, NPR interviewed Michael Cunningham, a professor who studies good and bad behavior. He told NPR, “trust seems to be at least as strong a motivator as guilt.” Consider this: the customer trusts the seller to sell a good and safe product and the seller trusts the customer to pay. Cunningham explained, “I get something delicious and I also get a good feeling about myself. Both of those things make me feel good about the world. I’m in a good place. It’s a win win.”

Cunningham found that about “25 percent of people are consistently honest, 25 percent mostly honest, 25 percent are dishonest, and 25 percent are erratic.” Still, the honor-system must be worth it to the small farmer, and, remember, a small town sees all.

Your thoughts: Should more businesses be built on a trust model?

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