This is the second installment of the Guide to Free and Cheap Produce. If you missed Part I last week, you will want to read it for more money saving ideas. The following are frugal ways I’ve found to obtain fresh produce. Use them to help combat the rising food prices.
Friends with Gardens
No one wants their garden produce to go to waste. Make it known to your friends and neighbors that you’d love to receive extra produce they can’t use. Many people plant more vegetables than they actually need. Around here tomatoes, zucchini and cucumbers are often the vegetables that people grow in excess. Offer to help with garden chores as a way to say thank you.
Fruit and vegetables picked by mechanical means in commercial agriculture often leave some of the produce behind. If you live in an agricultural area check with farmers to see if they would allow you to glean the leftovers. We often have opportunities to pick cherries for free after a cherry shaker has been through an orchard.
Before I had my own vegetable garden I answered a Freecycle post from someone offering their extra garden produce. My children and I got to pick three 5 gallon buckets of tomatoes, peppers, green beans and summer squash. That gave me the idea to write monthly wanted posts on freecycle asking if anyone wanted to get rid of excess produce from their garden. This same idea could be used on Craigslist if you don’t have a Freecycle group in your area.
Get to know the edible wild plants in your area. Every year I make jam from wild grapes and freeze Autumn Olive berry puree for smoothies. We have elderberries that I use to make elderberry syrup. You can make delicious fruit flavored vinegar even if you only find a cupful of wild berries.
Dandelions, purslane, violet leaves and violet flowers, all find their way into my salad bowl during the spring and summer. I found it interesting that a farmer was selling purslane for $3 at a farmers market last week.
An online search for edible plants in your state can help you know what to look for. Be sure to use a reliable reference for identifying wild edibles to avoid being poisoned. I like to use a field guide that I can take with me into the field or woods to identify the plant in it’s habitat. If you’re picking plants from a lawn or roadside, check to make sure they haven’t been sprayed with chemicals.
Even if you live in the city you can take note of friends or businesses that have fruit trees in their yard. Do they pick them? Surprisingly, many people let their fruit go to waste. They would be happy to let you pick it, so it doesn’t create a decaying mess on the ground. It would be wise to ask if the tree has been sprayed, and with what.
We have been blessed with free apricots and mulberries because I’ve kept my eye out for fruit trees that weren’t being picked.
Grocery Store Quick Sale Produce
Do you know what your grocery store does with excess produce that needs to sell quickly because they have fresher stuff coming? If you don’t know, ask. Many stores have a reduced produce rack where you can find great bargains. Also ask if they refill the rack on specific days or at specific times during the day, so you’ll know when the selection is at it’s best.
Inspect everything you buy from a reduced rack so you know it’s condition. If it needs to be eaten right away, only buy the amount you can eat or freeze. You don’t save any money if it decays in your refrigerator.
Additional helpful articles: Guide to Free and Cheap Produce, Part 1, 5 Frugal Ways to Stock Up on Chemical Free Vegetables, Important Questions to Ask Your Farmers
Please share your ideas for obtaining free or cheap food.