TRAVERSE CITY — Roadside farm stands are one of the most memorable things about summertime in northern Michigan. A drive along county roads often will offer charming stands beckoning with quarts of fresh-picked cherries, juicy peaches and baskets of sweet corn.
Many have marked the summer season for generations. Walt and Sharon Harris have operated their stand on Indian Hill Road in Honor since 1980. They’ve earned a following among both locals and summer residents who seek out their tasty sweet corn, green beans, cucumbers, zucchini, and tomatoes.
“It’s nice to know that people travel to our stand, looking for our produce," Walt Harris said. "Some people get hooked on certain things, like our sweet corn and they wait for it. It’s nice to know you’re putting out a product that people enjoy.”
Wendy and Gary Warren opened their farm stand on the Old Mission Peninsula four years ago. They sold apples at a stand near their home for many years, but decided to expand to a more visible location on Center Road, where they now sell their own peaches, nectarines, cherries and baked goods, as well as berries from nearby growers.
Kay Carpenter of Traverse City is a regular customer.
“We love to make the pleasant little trip out to the peninsula. We first stopped there years ago and within minutes of meeting Wendy and Gary, we felt like we’d been friends for years. Their fruit is wonderful and we always get their eggs. We feel like they’re part of our family. We just love them. ”
Many area stands are staffed, but just as many are self-serve and most farmers say they don’t have any problems. Customers believe there's something special about that kind of transaction: the farmer who grew the produce trusts you enough to leave it out on a table in the middle of nowhere and knows you’ll appreciate it enough to pay for it.
Sometimes people even leave a few extra bucks.
“I’ve never had a check bounce in all these years,” said Jim Shorter of Maple City.
He’s had a small self-serve stand on M-72 for nearly 25 years and keeps it open from morning until dark.
“People like to stop by and see what I’ve got. A lot of times other places aren’t open in the evening, so they just come up here at 8 p.m. and get some berries for their ice cream,” he said.
Some customers remember their favorite stand's very spot along the roadway, with every taste of sweet corn they enjoy for dinner.