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Guest Post: Mandy
5 Ways to get Free Produce
1. Grow it
yourself. Depending on where you live, there may be some start up costs involved if you want an elaborate setup, but remember that seeds are cheap, and grow in a variety of containers. Gardening is a great way to get free produce to can, freeze, and use. A few months ago, I saw a tomato plant growing a crack in the asphalt of a parking lot – and it had 3 green tomatoes on it! I was amazed, and wish that I had taken a picture. Plant fruit trees in anticipation of future harvests. There is an old proverb that says,
“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”
friends and neighbors if you can pick fruit from their trees. Ask at church, the kids’ play group, or any extended family you have nearby. Ask the produce clerks at grocery store if they have any produce mark downs. What is the worst thing they will say? No?
When we bought our house, it came with a huge 25 year old mature blood orange tree. I am always so happy when someone wants some oranges because there is no way I could even come close to using all of them! Take the kids with you to pick the fruit, and let them experience the sublime joy of eating a warm, juicy, perfectly ripe peach straight off of the tree. It will be a memory all of you will enjoy!
Make sure to bring your own bags or boxes.
3. Help a neighbor
My friend and her family went out of town for a week at the beginning of last summer. She asked us to water her garden in exchange for free produce that was ready to be picked. Since my own tomato crop had failed, we were pretty excited to still get to enjoy fresh homegrown tomatoes.
In ancient times, gleaners came in after the harvest, and were allowed to take any grain that was leftover in the field. While I know there are some small farms that still allow this, typically it is reserved for volunteer groups that donate the food to food banks. Instead, I am talking about urban gleaning.
For example, in a public park near our house, there are a couple of mature olive trees. While the city owns and maintains the trees, they never do anything with the fruit, except throw it away. If you see fruit trees on public land, call your city and ask if you can pick some. Sometimes fruit trees are used as ornamental around office buildings or other buildings.
Find out who you need to get permission from, and then ask if it’s available for you to harvest.
5. Check out supermarket alternatives
There is so much produce that comes through the Nogalas, AZ Port of Entry that was being wasted for reasons having nothing to do with quality or safety that the Borderlands Food Bank decided to do something about it. From October through May, they have several distribution sites each week throughout Arizona where anyone can pay $10 and get a whole lot of produce. Another option is what my kids call “The Fruit Store” because fruits and vegetables are 90% of what they sell. They buy over abundant produce from grocery stores and distributors, and sell it at a discount. Ask around to see if anyone knows of similar options near you.
What to do with extra produce
1. Eat it!
It may sound like a no brainer, but sometimes we are so intent on preserving the produce that we forget to enjoy some it fresh. I always try to “save” every thing, esp if it’s free, instead of eating and enjoying the fresh rip FREE fruit!
2. Freeze it
but portion it first! This is one of my #1 ways to use free produce. Freezing is a great option, but learn from previous mistakes and break it in to useful portions first. Label it too. At some point, you will most likely be tired, and out of freezer space, and just want it done, and will probably contemplate pouring all of that lemon juice, or whatever it is, into one big container. Don’t do it! It is highly unlikely that you will actually use up the rest of it once you thaw out the little bit you need. Re-freezing generally isn’t a viable option, either, because it affects the texture.
Cutting fruit into chunks, freezing it on a tray (on freezer paper so it won’t stick), then bagging it up into smoothie packets is another favorite. The National Center for Home Food Preservation has a fantastic website and free online class that includes information about freezing food as well as canning food.
3. Cook and bake with it
Banana bread, zucchini fritters, corn chowder, peach pie, and the list goes on and on!
4. Can it
Again, the NCHFP is a great resource for recipes and instructions. The Ball Blue Book is also very helpful. Just be sure your recipes are from a trusted source that has thoroughly tested them for proper pH levels, processing times, and safety.
5. Dry or dehydrate it
This is more practical for fruit (including tomatoes), though most people prefer freezing or canning. However, it is definitely an option worth considering.
What are you favorite things to do with extra produce?
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