Along Taipei’s Danyang Street, passers-by might be surprised to see a number of fruit and vegetable stands in front of the stores and shops, all unmanned, with the prices displayed on pieces of cardboard and bottles to collect the money.
Such stands are a common sight in rural towns and villages, but the stands on Danyang Street were set up by the shop owners to help Hualien County farmers as part of a project initiated by Eric Huang (黃榮墩), founder of the social welfare organization “The House of Kind Men.”
Huang trucks the fruits and vegetables from Hualien himself, motivated by a desire to help farmers deal with a glut of produce.
“Just because there is an overabundance of produce does not mean that the quality is bad,” Huang said, adding that he is trying to help farmers as well as consumers.
Huang said he began by selling directly to companies, then he started selling the produce at unmanned stands on Danyang Street, where his office is located.
“At first people just walked by with a glance or two,” he said. “Eventually a few would come up and pick up produce and put some money into the bottle.”
It was not just buyers who were hesitant; most shop owners also took a while to consider the project before joining, he said.
“Convenience stores on Danyang Street also set up unmanned stalls like I did,” Huang said, adding that some storeowners have since put up promotional posters.
Restaurant owners on the street said they sometimes use the vegetables in their dishes, offering them to customers for free.
“It’s all fresh produce and needs very little seasoning,” they said, adding that in-season produce is particularly healthy.
The project drew the attention of eight Chinese Culture University students in the department of mass communication who are taking a community public relations class.
Student Hung Chen-yu (洪振瑜) said the project is not about making money, but rather about doing something for the good of others.
“If we can find more locations to sell the produce, we could help farmers avoid having to sell over-ripe vegetables and fruit at below market prices,” Hung said.
When asked if he worried that people might take the produce without paying, he said he was not.
“The more you trust others, the less they will do to breach that trust. Most people have a good heart and are well-intentioned; they simply don’t know how to show it,” he said.
Huang said he hoped to change people’s buying habits as Taiwanese often buy the smallest items.
“I’m trying to tell them that people should share their kindness and buy big,” Huang said. “They should not worry about whether the family can finish what they buy as they can share what they cannot finish with friends and neighbors, which is another form of kindness.”