Growing up around farm communities in the Northwest, I always enjoyed country drives during the summer and fall. Roadside markets were plentiful, full of fresh produce, and sales were most often based on the honor system.
Many times I remember skipping from the car to a market stand where a bag of corn or a box of strawberries was exchanged for a couple dollars. For a kid, it was like winning the lottery because you always knew that produce was going to be fantastic.
I dreamed of one day operating one of those farm stands; it’s possible at that young age I was more excited about the idea of creating a stand with a neat sign than actually growing the food to sell.
Later in life, those memories followed and encouraged me to shop at local farmers markets, where a variety of vendors were at your fingertips. Both avenues were filled with nice folks living this natural rural lifestyle that I’d always dreamed about. It was very moving.
Both shopping opportunities offered displays that almost always represented the vendor’s farm or ranch. They represented them with strong branding and marketing, their name, logo, and presentation. Creating a display can sometimes be almost as important as the product. A welcoming appearance can draw in customers and make shopping appealing. It was those personalized spaces with colorful produce and a clean presence that left the best impression.
When I look back and remember those roadside markets, I smile because they were truly the ones that left the best impression. Some of the signs were hand painted, and their stations appeared to be made out of leftover wood, handcrafted for long- and short-term use, and they caught your attention, inviting drivers to stop.
Eventually I did end up on my own farm, and recently opened an honor system farm stand. The idea sparked after I started making stenciled signs for our garden and found this activity to be really fun. I built a shelf-style stand using 2-by-4s, plywood, and fence planks. It’s a very simple design that I painted red, and I sell mostly simple things like plants, produce, and fun signs I make that express farm life. It’s been a great way to share our efforts with neighbors and visitors driving by.
Setting up a farm stand may involve some building skills, but the basics are really all that’s necessary; being able to operate a power saw and drill will get you far. The next step is to create a great-looking sign. This is where having an eye for artistic creativity comes into play. Remember: Make something that will catch the driver’s attention.
It might be a good idea to study the traffic that travels by your farm. See if folks drive fast or slow. This simple evaluation can help you create a sign that grabs attention without causing too much of a distraction.
To create an effective sign, let’s first focus on four key areas. Each one is important and could reflect the success of your market.
1. Visibility is really important; all signs should be sized for viewing at a distance. One-inch letter height for every 10 feet of viewing distance is a good place to start. The sign should also be placed in a location where your customers can see it.
2. Readability is a manner of organizing a message so that it conveys the product. Use key words and short phrases if necessary. Anything you want to stand out should be in bold. Basically keep it clean, simple, and easy to read.
3. Noticeability is another key that draws customers in. Incorporating some design elements that help your message stand out is important, but don’t take away the uniqueness if the design. A fun attraction can serve to make a sign more noticeable. If you’re selling flowers, perhaps a watering can graphic or a sunflower would be a good addition to center one’s attention.
4. Legibility has to do with type style, and this is critical. The proper font should convey your message, not take away from it. Many new fancy fonts are pretty, but they can be difficult to read, especially from a distance. Make sure the font is clean and crisp, and it stands out.
Once you have a good handle on these four principles, it’s time to choose sign colors. The sign may either accent the market or farm location. When I began planning my sign, it made sense to use cedar fence planks because this wood was also incorporated on the walls of the stand. Everything appeared cohesive. Fence planks work well for signs and tend to be inexpensive purchased new at any home improvement store.
You can also use other types of wood or even reclaimed wood if it’s available. Get creative and decide if the sign base should be left natural, stained, or painted.
Once the size and base of the sign is established, it’s time to add letters. The best way to create a legible sign, regardless of your skill level, is to use stencils. Many craft stores or online shops can offer single letter or word stencils.
Sometimes you may have to take additional precautions to keep your entire structure secure. It can be windy where we live, so I placed T-posts behind the stand and wired the back wall to those posts. Providing security will help prevent a possible disaster from occurring.
If your farm is located away from a main street and doesn’t receive a lot of traffic, then you’ll have to think about making additional signs to direct cars to your market. You can use the same sign-making methods as previously discussed, just remember to attach that sign to a stick so it can be properly placed at an intersection, and include an arrow to show the destination. One or two of these may be all you need to lead drivers to your farm stand. If you need to place temporary signs on land that you don’t own, always seek permission from the landowner first.
Be sure any street signs resemble your main sign, as it will help those trying to find your farm connect the dots. This little detail will also help you look professional and stand out. The final step, of course, is to add product, a payment box, and think about inviting friends or neighbors on opening day.
If operating a farm stand isn’t an option where you live, then I encourage you to take a drive to the countryside and look for one of these honor system markets. Stop by and take note of their sign and display before making a purchase.
Shopping from the farm is a real-life opportunity to meet people who’ve decided to live simpler; it’s where the desire to do more is encouraged. It could be an outing you’ll never forget.
Stenciling a sign
Stenciling is a lot of fun, and there a few steps that will help you create a flawless sign.
These steps include:
1. Work on a clean space.
2. Make sure everything is lined up correctly.
3. Tape stencil in place with painters tape.
4. Use white or black paint for letters (base this choice on the sign backdrop color).
5. Use a scrap piece of wood as a paint pallet.
6. Load the brush with paint and brush out as much as possible before stenciling.
7. Dot paint onto stencil while also holding in place.
8. Reload brush as needed.
9. Reveal the letter when finished and keep moving forward.
10. Always do a practice letter first before applying to your sign.
• The most important thing to remember is to never overload your paintbrush with paint. The less paint on the brush means less bleeding through your stencil and fewer mistakes will appear.
• Any mistakes can be removed with sandpaper after the sign is completely dry; take your time with this step if it becomes necessary to implement. With a small piece of sandpaper, lightly sand out the error.
• Adding other details to your sign is also an option. Ribbon can sometimes add a line of color and texture that can help your sign stand out without taking away from the words.
• Additional stenciling is another option as long as you keep it simple, such as a swish arrow or a double line to help your market name stand out.
• Three-dimensional logos are a nice touch if pumpkins, watermelons, or other produce is your specialty. Get creative and have fun with it.
• Once your sign is finished, connect it to the stand with screws prior to setting up shop. It would also make sense for you to drive by and make sure your sign is easy to view from the street. This will help you notice if something needs to be added or removed.
Signs of a different type: Blogger Charlotte McMullen offers a humorous “5 Signs You’re a Farmer’s Wife.”
Carole West lives on a small farm in northern Texas with her husband and a variety of small livestock. She is a freelance writer, author of Quail Getting Started, and shares advice about gardening, quail, and building projects on her blog www.GardenUpGreen.com.