The Roadside Fruit Stand, Convenience, and Culture

James Walpole/ July 21, 2020

Based on my recent drive through South Carolina’s back roads, the state’s main economic output is peach/firework/boiled peanut stands.

Seriously – you can find these everywhere from the upstate to the coast. It’s a staple of South Carolina roadsides, and probably of the rest of the South, too, and it’s delightful. Here is commerce on a small, human level. Unless they’re selling fireworks, the owners of these stands probably have no interaction with bureaucrats at all. They just set up shop and start doing business. How empowering!

Small time entrepreneurship is so rare but it’s good that there are outlets like this one.

But I’m worried that fruit stands might die out in another generation or so. When I set out to find fresh South Carolina peaches this weekend, my initial inclination was to just go to the Google Maps results. These prioritize the big peach orchards with the (relatively) big stores. Absent that, I might go to some supermarket somewhere.

Instead, I stopped at MacGregor’s Orchard. I met the farmer who grew the peaches. I had a good conversation with him about orchard techniques. I got personalized service from a lady who carried the peaches to my car. And I got some really fresh, locally-sourced peaches.

But I came close to taking the easy way and just buying my peaches from a faceless company as a faceless consumer. This I see as a symptom of the convenience culture in which we live.

A great deal of what the tech and corporate worlds have done for/to us has been to remove “friction” from our transactions and daily activities. Instead of having to go to multiple vendors, we can go and get everything from one big supermarket place. Instead of having to pay with cash, we can pay with a piece of plastic. Instead of having to go anywhere, we can order it from home.

The effect of this is that people avoid any novelty in their purchasing. They repeat business with Amazon.com or Publix or whomever without really mixing things up. It’s understandable – it’s convenient. But we lose something when we accept convenience as the prime determining value in our buying decisions.

We lose peach/firework/boiled peanut stands.

It takes some curiosity and some desire for novelty and even some courage to pull over on the road and buy food from some stranger in the backcountry. It even takes some of that to go to the supermarket (a place of many meetings still between friends, acquaintances, and occasionally, romantic interests). These interactions require and strengthen social skills and negotiation and local networks. They encourage local entrepreneurship.

It takes no courage and no curiosity to order something on your phone. And there is no strengthening or even discovery of local community or local entrepreneurs in the process.

So really, we lose more than fruit stands when we opt for convenience above all other factors.

James Walpole

James Walpole is a writer, startup marketer, and perpetual apprentice. You're reading his blog right now, and he really appreciates it. Don't let it go to his head, though.

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