Producers who rely on honesty boxes for farm gate sales are all too often left out of pocket when would-be customers walk off with their eggs or other produce without paying. It just doesn’t work.
The machine offered farmers some security against opportunist thieves who took advantage of honesty boxes. It can be tailored to suit any size of operation and it can vend anything from eggs to vegetables and potatoes.
In the US, Glaum Egg Ranch in Santa Cruz County, California was one of the earliest adopters, dispensing eggs with a side of entertainment. When customers purchase eggs, they’re also treated to an animatronic show complete with singing and dancing chickens.
Farm-fresh vending machines in the United States often sport buzzwords or gimmicks to get customers (and the media) excited. In Europe and Japan, they’re a less flashy affair and many farmers use vending machines as an efficient alternative to roadside stands.
New York decided to implement a vending machine program that was somewhere between practical and publicity stunt. Machines at rest stops are now selling items ranging from Red Jacket Orchard juices from Geneva, New York to Finger Lakes Fresh apple slices from Groton and Sweet Sam’s cookies from the Bronx. Health-wise, these vending machines are a far cry from dairy and eggs, but they’re getting people comfortable with the idea that local food is for everyone.
New York has installed 10 machines throughout the state and hopes to install more if they prove popular. This marks the first time local-fare vending machines have been sponsored by the public sector. Vending machines have a number of advantages over brick-and-mortar stores or even farmers markets. There’s no need to pay an employee to run the register and, unlike a weekly market, the machines can run 24/7 in many locations at once. As far as trends go, farm-fresh vending machines are surprisingly practical. They bring local foods to customers who aren’t likely to sign up for a CSA or visit their local farmers market.
Especially in the last decade, eating local has developed the stigma that it’s only for a certain class of people. The state’s ability to promote local food in the most everyman of government buildings — a rest stop — is a huge step toward making such foods feel more accessible. The vending machines also boost farm income and offer a bit of brand recognition. Visitors who see a farm’s name in a vending machine, for instance, might be moved to take part in a farm tour or seek out their products elsewhere.
Finding unique ways to bring local foodstuffs to people who otherwise might not consume it is an idea that is taking hold across the country. In Vermont, another state with a strong interest in promoting local food, the state government has started placing local foods in veterans’ homes, hospitals, schools and state offices.
“Vermont has taken the successful farm-to-school model and broadened it into this larger farm-to-institution initiative,” says local foods administrator Abbey Willard.
By repurposing the decades-old technology of vending machines to support local food, New York is doing the same. Often, buying local means eating out at an expensive restaurant or cooking a meal from scratch with farmers market groceries. As Morrissey points out, “Vending machines are great for people on the go.”