In the days of our grandparents, growing your own produce was more of a necessity than a hobby. Then, after the outbreak of Covid-19 and subsequent lockdowns, many people saw the benefit of being able to support themselves.
Even as the initial fear of leaving the homestead (or sticking to the allotment rather than venturing into the supermarket) subsided, a newfound love for cultivating the land was sparked and many new producers were born.
However, a surplus of produce at harvest time has led to people across the country selling produce (jams, honey, eggs and more) in makeshift stalls by their garden wall or yard gate. And since it’s not possible to wait all day for a potential client, they trust the integrity of strangers (or neighbors) by installing an honesty box.
Niall Moore running clonannyfarm.ie along with his brother David, launched such a program in 2020 after pondering it for several years.
“Our honesty box is located just outside our Clonanny farm shop in Naul, Co. Dublin,” he says. “We open the shop on the weekends and the honesty box is there for the rest of the week, filled with eggs, vegetables, some fruit and bedding plants.
“We have a price list, with a mailbox for bills and a basket for loose change and loose change.”
Across the country, Edwin Smyth and Donna Sturm also rely on the good nature of visitors to The Green Bee Honesty Box outside their home in Connemara. After both being employed in different industries, last year the two decided to quit their jobs to pursue their dream of running their own business (The Green Bee) where they sell all their own homemade products.
“I’ve been a hobby beekeeper since 2015 and we keep hives out back of our house,” says Edwin, who is originally from Meath. “We sell our own wildflower raw honey from our honesty box (and shop) along with our own range of handcrafted traditional preserves, marmalades, pickles, chutney and liqueurs – and we also sell our own range of handcrafted natural cosmetics (goat’s milk soap, shampoo bars, conditioner bars and lip balm) and handcrafted birdhouses.
“Donna hails from a part of the Netherlands where honesty boxes are a very common way for people to sell surplus fruit and veg from their gardens and for beekeepers to sell their raw honey directly to local people. Seeing the honesty box system in action there made me wonder if it could possibly work in Connemara. So in 2018 I built a little box out of wood and started selling small batches of honey and jam. Initially it took local people a long time to get used to how it worked and some were nervous about the whole escrow system idea.
“For the first six months we had people knocking on the door wanting to buy in the pits but insisting on paying us in person in case we thought they hadn’t paid in the pits. But in a short time it became very popular with locals, tourists and passers-by and soon became too small to hold all the products we wanted to sell, so I built a much larger version – which we still use today.”
Edwin and Donna’s honesty box, located on the street in front of their house, can be found on Google Maps and is also clearly visible to anyone who happens to pass by. Instructions and pricing are listed in the box, and Edwin says it’s a great way to do business.
“Things have been going really well for us so far,” he says. “We keep a small number of each product (all with a long shelf life) in the box and replenish as needed throughout the day. Since we started in 2018, we can confirm that 99.99 percent of people have been absolutely honest and have left the required amount of money. Sometimes we find promissory notes in the cash box and people keep coming back to honor them, but in 2019 we had a few instances where someone clearly took a large number of products without leaving any money. We then decided to install a surveillance camera to prevent this and so far this seems to have deterred further theft.
“Overall, we’ve found that when people have the opportunity to be honest and pay for products without the owner being present, they respect and pay in full for this unusual opportunity presented to them.”
Fourth-generation farmers Niall and David Moore, who also raise free-range pigs and sheep with their father Kevin and sell their own meat in the shop (it’s not currently available in the honesty box), have also suffered some losses, but Die say most people are very trustworthy.
“Sometimes people don’t leave money, which could be due to misjudgment or because they don’t have it with them,” says Niall. “Then we can also make money if people took something the week before and are now paying for it, which is great. But unfortunately we have had a few cases where products have been lost and payments not received – but these are rare cases.
“And of course when it comes to fresh produce there will always be some waste. As our hours of operation are limited, the honesty box helps maintain turnover throughout the week. The feedback has been good as far as people love the handiness.”
But it’s not just agricultural produce that can be sold through this system, Roderick and Helena Perceval also rely on the honesty of visitors to Temple House Estate, their country inn in Ballymote, Sligo.
Before dinner, guests can help themselves to a glass of wine, jot down what they’ve eaten in an “honesty book” and relax with an aperitif without having to wait to be served.
“In 2005, a year after a year in business, we launched the Honesty Bar to allow guests to feel at home while still enjoying the ‘wow’ of the country house,” says Roderick.
“There’s no hassle, people just serve themselves and they’re always very good at reminding me to include it in the bill. Our guests usually dine together at a large table, so having a drink in hand when they first meet helps break the ice.”
Niall Moore says he and his brother have had a lot of good feedback in Co Dublin, while Edwin Smyth says not only is it a huge hit with locals but some people really make an effort to visit.
“A lot of people have thanked us for opening it as they feel it’s a huge benefit to the area and they love the whole idea of being trusted to leave the right amount of money,” he says. “They like to buy local products and also that the transaction is quick and they can shop with us on their way home from work without any interaction. Many people take photos of our honesty box and post them on their Instagram and Facebook accounts.
“This year we have spoken to people from all parts of Ireland who come back to shop in our box every year. And we’ve even spoken to several Americans who visit Ireland each year and insist on taking a trip to our Honesty Box to buy honey to take home.
“Since we started in 2018 we’ve spotted a number of other honesty boxes popping up in Connemara so the idea definitely has traction.”
https://www.independent.ie/life/people-just-help-themselves-the-rise-of-irish-honesty-shops-and-bars-41963624.html ‘People just help themselves’ – The rise of Irish honesty shops and bars