Thursday, May 31, 2012

Putting Honesty on the Table

The weeks of wet weather during April and May were welcome respite for the dry, parched soil and a change from the previous two springs when planting time also meant an arduous watering time. However, the lack of sunshine meant that, although allotments and vegetable gardens were well irrigated, plants were not moving on in their growth. Lettuces that I planted out in mid-April were barely any bigger in mid-May; but that has all changed now. Over a week of continuous sunshine has meant that the watering cans are out again, early crops can be harvested and ‘honesty tables’ are being stocked again.

For the uninitiated, an honesty table - or honesty box - is a way of selling surplus fruit and vegetables by leaving them unattended outside your house at the roadside and relying on the integrity of passing customers to leave money for what they have taken. The honesty system is ubiquitous where I live, ranging from farms and smallholdings selling their produce direct to the public, to householders with a glut of seasonal vegetables, jams or pickles. Sometimes actually a table, more often than not they are a covered shelf that looks a little like an open fronted rabbit hutch. Invariably, there will be a small hand written price list and a pot to put the money in. There are few abuses of the system but there have been some thefts of the takings; one honesty table near me has a metal moneybox clamped and padlocked to the shelf, and at another you have to put your money in an angled length of pipe that is then sent down through a hedge and securely into the cottage garden.

All the year round, some honesty tables sell eggs that you can guarantee will be fresher than any in the supermarket; but it is as Spring matures - and the primavera appear - that I get very excited when I approach an honesty table as I barrel around the lanes of the Sussex countryside. For two weeks now, we have been able to get asparagus - cut that morning - from a local table, as well as lettuces and giant radishes; and the first broad beans, courgettes and carrots will be appearing soon. As Summer draws on, tables will be laden with runner beans and tomatoes - a dish in itself - and in the Autumn it will be fruit and squashes. If you cannot grow your own, or do not have the space to grow as much as you need, honesty tables are an essential part of a life of sufficiency. They exist outside of the system, they are a way of ensuring that food is not wasted and they put the freshest fruit and vegetables on your own table. Mind you, you could just give your surplus away for free.

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