Nova Scotia

Farmers turn to roadside stands to reach customers during pandemic

A Dalhousie University agriculture professor says she's noticing more and more farm stands on the side of Nova Scotia's roads.

Stands are beneficial for the environment and offer another revenue stream for farmers, says agriculture prof

Carmen and Nathan Sampson and their children are shown outside their farmstand in Sampsonville, Richmond County. (Submitted by Carmen Sampson)

Nova Scotians should look to the roadside this year, as many farmers search for new ways to sell their crops.

Carmen Sampson owns and operates Acadian Acres in Richmond County. She and her family began a farm stand in Sampsonville last fall.

"We did a few markets last year and the year before," said Sampson.

"But this year, and especially with COVID, we're just sticking with the farm stand. It seems to be OK — last weekend was our opening weekend and we sold out."

The Sampson family shed is made of weathered wood, leftover tin roofing and antique eaves troughs.

Acadian Acres Farm and Wild Edibles in Sampsonville has set up this roadside farmstand where customers can come and pick up fresh produce and other items. (Carmen Sampson)

Inside is a painted fridge, shelving for preserves, a chalkboard with pricing and a tool box for cash.

The stand is left unattended. Sampson said there have been few problems with people taking more than they have purchased.

"It's incredibly honest," she said. "I figure if people need it to eat and they can't afford to pay it — they need it, so you might as well just take it."

If you wish to barter, Sampson said she'll trade food for weed pulling and compost shovelling.

The farm stand worked out some kinks last year by adding refrigeration that helps keep produce fresh.

"Last year, we had coolers with ice packs in it," said Sampson. "The maintenance and just the smell of the closed cooler wasn't working for us."

Sampson said her children have also joined in the business with seashells and rocks for sale.

"My daughter also makes dog treats, called 'Top of the Woof,'" she said. "She's learning all about the economics of the farm stand, so it's pretty cute."

Farmers finding new ways

The existence of farm stands is nothing new, said Kathleen Kevany. But it something she's noticed has been growing in popularity in Nova Scotia.

The associate professor in Dalhousie University's faculty of agriculture said some farmers were left with no choice but to pivot away from traditional sales methods for the time being.

She also said student research has shown that farmers greatly benefit from multi-pronged revenue streams.

One of the biggest challenges for farms is fanning out produce in a short window of time. And then finding new ways to create value-added products.

"Roadside stands are a really helpful path to get particularly perishable foods quickly to customers and not spoil," said Kevany. "Because we don't want to see that."

Wasted food

Kevany said studies have shown that about 40 per cent food produced for retail sale is wasted in Canada.

She said farm stands are a solution to not only cutting down waste, but they also strengthen a social fabric of a community by creating personal connections.

They also reduce greenhouse gases, said Kevany, as they shorten the time food spends travelling before ending up on plates.

A spokesperson for Department of Environment says it's unclear if the number of farm stands is increasing in the province, as they do not collect data on such ventures.