Ah, the old farm stand, that seasonal roadside wellspring of sweet, ready-to-be-shucked corn, crisp and juicy apples or jugs of real maple syrup. But that humble stand has now become big business -- in more ways than one. Spurred by the "eat local" movement, consumers are flocking to stands connected to family farms (and those farms account for fully 96% of the 2.2 million farms in the United States). No less an authority than the U.S. Department of Agriculture calls the trend of selling directly to consumers "an important new opportunity for small and beginning farmers and ranchers to become financially secure."
But it's not just the farm-stand movement as a whole that's gaining ground. Individual stands are also thinking big, with many morphing into year-round, full-scale enterprises -- like supermarkets in touristy packaging. Such "stands," which can have annual sales in the millions of dollars, offer everything from souvenirs to prepared meals. At the Avila Valley Barn in San Luis Obispo, Calif., for example, raspberries and blackberries share space with packaged gourmet goods, bakeware, barbecue accessories, cookbooks and even educational toys. The stand says on its website that it's trying to re-create a bygone era of country living: "It makes one feel that they have stepped back in time -- to the simpler, sweeter days of yesteryear."