Facts That Figure: Fruit Stands

Facts That Figure: Fruit Stands

By: C.G. Hoffman

Nothing tastes quite like summer as much as a juicy peach bought fresh from a roadside fruit stand.

Are fruit stands a new idea? An old one? Or an old-new one? Read on to find out!

The idea of fruit stands is as old as the idea of the market. Once people started living in cities, there needed to be a way to get the farmers’ fruits and vegetables to the city dwellers, and thus, the urban market was born.

Any good-sized town in Medieval times had its market, and it was a source of revenue not just for the sellers but also for the towns’ lords and leaders. A toll had to be paid to enter, and sellers had to pay rent for their stalls. A “catchpole” was employed by the lord to ensure that none of the sellers cheated their customers so as not to lose customers to the neighboring town’s market.

With cities growing larger, farmland was pushed farther away from population centers, and produce became something one bought in a store. Advances in transportation and food processing gave farmers a new market, and groceries became a more convenient place for city dwellers to purchase their foods.

In its simplest form, a roadside fruit stand is a stall set up by a farmer’s family to sell their fruits and vegetables to passersby on main roads near their farms.

It was 1943, and the middle of World War II. Farmers had a big problem: their biggest customers, the canneries and food processors, were shorthanded, and without enough labor to power their machinery, they started buying less produce from the farmers. Farmers literally had to watch their crops rotting in the fields. John Brucato, of San Francisco had a great idea: Bring the farmers to the city! Six farmers unloaded their produce, and at 25¢ a pound, in two hours, every last bit was gone! Within a couple of days, the number of farmers had increased to 135, and San Francisco’s first farmers market was born.

Some fruit stands have grown into famous grocery chains. What started as a fruit stand in 1948 is now the Dorothy Lane Market, a chain of specialty grocery stores. 

The Dole Food company started as a roadside pineapple stand in Hawaii. By 2010, the food industry giant was raking in $6.9 billion per year.

How did poor Jews living in the Lower East Side get their fruits and vegetables? From pushcarts, of course! The uptown shops were for well-heeled upper-class snobs. A crowded hodge-podge of pushcarts lined the streets of the Lower East Side, selling everything from fruits, fish, and eyeglasses to a pickle for a nickel. In 1899, the price of a pushcart license was only $4, and by 1904, 6,747 pushcarts were peddling their wares.

Two little girls in California, ages eleven and three, got into big trouble with the local mayor in 2008. Their crime? Operating an unlicensed fruit stand. The mayor decided they were running a commercial enterprise in an area that was not zoned for commerce and shut them down.

The fruit stand is almost a New York City institution. Vendors wake up at the crack of dawn and purchase their fruits and vegetables at the Hunts Point Produce Market in the Bronx. Running such a stand is relatively cheap: Both licenses and cart permits cost fifty dollars each, renewable every two years.

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