We had to admit it. She was a damned good saleswoman. After driving around Cape Cod for a week, buying sweet corn for 50 cents an ear at every roadside stand we passed, we just had to stop at the one in Sandwich. Their corn was $1 an ear. What on earth could justify that price?, we wondered.
The owner’s answer was simple, a query with a Quahog accent: “Ya tried ah cahn?”
Well that did it. We tried her corn. It was terrible. But her pitch was perfect, as if she had read Roadside Marketing cover to cover.
Gilbert S. Watts’ Roadside Marketing was published by Orange Judd in 1928. Orange Judd published hundreds of farming manuals between the 1850’s and the 1930’s (slowing down but still in existence through the 20th century), and this is my favorite. In 1929, roadside marketing was a fairly new phenomenon, brought about by the acceleration in automobile use. At last, the consumer could drive out to a farm and buy directly from a producer, rather than from markets in cities and towns. Who knew that such a modern innovation as the car would bring people back to the land? For the first time in the 20th century, cooks would get to know their farmers and producers.
Watts’ book instructs the farmer in setting up his stand, with tips on everything from how to pile produce if he was situated in a dip in the road, to where to hang his signs and price tags. Of course, it also schools the farmer in the fine art of salesmanship: “…the salesperson should be a better judge of quality than the customer, and should give the customer the full benefit of this knowledge.” Clearly, a point not lost on a certain roadside marketer near Sandwich, Massachussetts.