Honor System Honey Stand Pollinates Kindness In Putnam County

Feb 4, 2015

  There's a roadside stand in Putnam County that's known not just for its orange-blossom honey but for the way it operates: It runs on the honor system, and has for almost 70 years. 

It's just a stone's throw southeast of Palatka — in a bend alongside State Route 100 under a bunch of oak trees.  You could be forgiven for missing David C. Biggers' legendary roadside stand "Honor System Honey,"  but not by Biggers himself.

"If you live in this county and you don't know where the honey stand is, you just moved here," he said. "Everybody knows where it's at."

The roadside stand has many varieties of local honey, from orange blossom to wild flower to gallberry — harvested from a bush that grows wild in the woods.

Biggers, 72, is paunchy with an easy smile. If you spend time with him, you'll learn a lot about honey and business, though to hear him talk about it, what he does is not so complicated.

"It's a simple business," he said. "I could train a monkey to do it."

FAMILY BUSINESS

The weathered honey stand has been serving Putnam County's sweet tooths for almost 70 years. Biggers' father, Calvin Biggers, built it in 1947.

"My daddy was a very trustworthy person. Back in the 50's, there wasn't no interstate highways. This was the main highway going to Daytona," David Biggers said.

Calvin Biggers was a citrus inspector working in Florida's orange groves. He was out on the road a lot, and couldn't tend his honey stand most days. He put the stand on an honor system and his son has continued that tradition. People sometimes steal the honey, but David Biggers doesn't worry much about it.

"Let 'em have it! That's their problem not mine," he said.

That gets to the heart of Biggers' philosophy and business model: that most people are good and honest. If you let people know you trust them, they will do the right thing.

"Basically, you can put a crook on the honor system. He'll pay. So what if somebody gets a jar of honey and don't pay for it?" Biggers said. "If I paid somebody minimum wage out here... hey, they might touch it too, you know? People want to be part of something that's decent and right, you know what I'm talking about?"

THE SCIENCE OF THE HONOR SYSTEM

Neuroeconomist Paul Zak does know what Biggers is talking about. He has spent more than a decade researching the brain chemical "oxytocin," the so-called morality molecule. Oxytocin is the body's version of the golden rule.

"I think one of the longest debates humans have had since humans have been having debates is whether our nature is good or evil," Zak said. "When someone treats you with a kindness, when someone shows that they trust you, you get a squirt of oxytocin in your brain, and that motivates you to reciprocate kindness with kindness."

So when you see the sign that says "Honor system. Just put your money in the box," you know that Biggers is putting his trust in you. That gives your brain a squirt of oxytocin — which makes you more empathetic and makes you want to do the right thing, like put your money in the box.

And Zak said it's not only the customers that get the feel-good boost. Those who drive by the stand also feel good, even if they don't use it.

"We think somehow the world's a little better place because in Florida there is still a place where I can go pick up some fresh organic honey and just pay what they ask me to pay,'" Zak said.

While the honor system may work well for food stands or small-value items, Zak said empathy probably will not win out over temptation in places like car dealerships, liquor stores or Walmart.