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Smashing the Honesty Box

We’ve written now and again about various honor-system commerce schemes (the Bagel Guy in Freakonomics) or pay-as-you-wish systems for coffee shops, bakeries, music downloads, and the like.

Just don’t try this if you happen to live anywhere near Northumberland in England. That’s where a business consultant named James Cookson regularly left out his surplus vegetables, along with a piggy bank for payments. Here’s the story:

He says he only takes between £5 and £10 a week from the enterprise, which he set up to avoid veg such as parsnips, leeks, beetroot and cabbage grown in his walled garden from going to waste.

So he was amazed last weekend to receive a letter from Northumberland County Council informing him that a trading standards officer had visited the stall – and advising him that parsnips, spinach and leeks are required to be sold by weight.

The letter went on to inform him that “most fruit and vegetables are required to be sold by weight”, and was accompanied by four pages of “guidance” on weights and measures.

Here’s the reply of a county council spokeswoman:

She said the letter was aimed at helping Mr. Cookson improve the way he labels the vegetables for sale and ensure he complied with the law.

“The advice that was given in the letter was to help explain how to sell fruit and vegetables in the correct manner to meet national guidelines. Even small stalls have the same responsibilities as large retailers, but we are not pursuing the stall owner for any wrongdoing; we are offering advice and guidance on how to meet the produce-selling requirements.”

Maybe the council is just steamed that it’s not getting its piece of the action, like a certain Illinois governor.

(Hat tip: Tom Kosakowski)