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Finding Minnesota: Honesty On The Farm

SAUK CENTRE, Minn. (WCCO) -- Even with the reputation of being friendly and honest, most Minnesotans are still a little cautious in terms of how much they trust people.

That is why a well-stocked indoor farmers market near Sauk Centre seems unusual in 2015. It is virtually unsupervised, unlocked and unprotected, 24 hours a day.

Customers who help themselves to tomatoes, pumpkins, berries or other produce are trusted to drop the proper amount of money into a cash box.

The Tutti Fruitti Market Farm is run by members of the Gwost family, who are having one of their best years of farming ever.

But with long days in the fields, and literally tons of produce to harvest, co-owner Kevin Gwost says there is not much spare time to handle the sales in the market.

"We finally decided, well jeepers, we can't be running all the time," he said. "So we decided to start the honor system."

Gwost's daughter, Victoria Jacobs, enjoys hearing some of the reaction when she comes in from the field.

"It's funny when you get people from, like, New York or something," Jacobs said. "They come and they take pictures of the cash box and they can't believe. They're like, 'if this was in New York, the cash box would be gone, the table, the building it was in.'"

For the record, the cash box is padlocked and bolted to a heavy table which would be difficult for anyone to move.

Tutti Fruitti Market Farm Finding Minnesota
(credit: CBS)

The family's produce sales started nearly 30 years ago when they had a much smaller garden, and they put some extra produce for sale on a picnic table outside their home. In the years since, their gardens and their work hours have grown.

In more than 25 years of using the honor system, the family says they've come up short maybe $25 to $30 total. In fact, some people without the correct change actually put in more than they owe.

"Those that put in a little extra cash will make up for those that didn't put in quite enough cash," co-owner Marlene Gwost said.

Just steps away from the market, the family is now growing another business on the farm: a restaurant where they offer comfort food -- and the occasional serenade from Marlene's concertina.

"Community is important to me because without them right around here, we wouldn't have a business," she said. "They feel comfortable with us, I trust them, they trust us."

Still, all of that trust and happiness does take some getting used to for people like Denny Schiebold. He and his wife moved to the area from the Twin Cities 13 years ago.

"Sauk Centre reminds her a little of Mayberry," Schiebold said. "A cross between Mayberry and "The Twilight Zone" -- in a good way. It was a little different than living in the cities."

But for Schiebold and the others who have paid in full and stuck around for a few laughs, it has been comforting to know that honesty is still alive.

"Yes it is," Jacobs said. "Believe it or not, it is. At least it is in Sauk Centre."

Even though they occasionally come up short at the market, the family considers what they would have paid someone to work there, and they are still ahead. They are just grateful their neighbors are overwhelmingly honest.

The family is hosting their annual Pumpkin Fun Days on Oct. 3 and Oct. 10, with outdoor family entertainment.

Send us your Finding Minnesota ideas here.

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