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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Frugality (Part XII): Gleaning

This post is coming out a little later than I intended, and a little later than its usefulness perhaps (though there are still plenty of opportunities), but I hope it will cause you to think of different ways about how you can acquire what your family needs or wants.

For years, we picked crabapples and made beautiful jelly out of it. It was one of the favorite preserves that we gave away at Christmas. It was lovely to look at and delightful to taste. It also cost us almost nothing to make. You see, we were at a park that was landscaped with crabapple trees. We asked the park maintenance crews if they were sprayed and if it was okay to pick them. They answered no and yes. So, every summer, we'd go and pick boxes and boxes and bags and bags of them. It was fun for the children, we were able to get lovely fruit and the jelly only cost us the sugar and time. For a few years, Rich would take the boys down the street from our duplex and pick pie cherries from a tree that nobody took care of anymore. He would pit them and I would make pie. Just two houses from our duplex, there was a yellow transparent apple tree which is a very early variety that is sweet and tart and makes great apple sauce. We'd load up on them, as nobody else wanted them.

All over the northwest, blackberries are rampant along roadsides and are pernicious weeds in yards. They are wonderful in desserts, as jellies and jams, syrups, vinegars and frozen for later use. All it takes is a little time and effort to pick them. Precious little effort and time. Likewise, mint grew as a weed all over the place and where I grew up, you could find wild fennel. Before we moved, we lived minutes away from a park that used to be a blueberry farm. It was free to the public to pick as much as they wanted from over 5000 bushes. Again, the major cost was time and effort.

There are abandoned apple and pear trees in almost every town in every state. These are often still good to eat, or at least to be used for apple or pear sauce, jellies and butters. If they are in good condition, they can be used for pies, crumbles, canned in slices or frozen for other use. Sometimes, the orchards aren't abandoned, but the owners cannot put in the effort to harvest and don't want the fruit to go to waste, much like when we picked all those apples last fall.

I know of many people who have gleaned grape leaves from parks or neighbors' gardens, olives from the landscaping trees in Southern California. In our new area, I hear about picking wild asparagus from irrigation ditches. There are opportunities for such windfalls in every area. I'm sure you can think of some local treat that is easily available on roadsides and will over take yards and gardens. If you live in an agricultural area, chances are you can find a field in which to glean potatoes or corn. It is a fun activity to do as a family and the benefit is much greater than the food gathered. You are able to share fun and memories, you are able to exercise together, you get farm fresh produce, often it is organic (even if it hasn't been certified), your children get to learn about the work it takes to bring food from the farm to a home, it teaches lessons about work and perseverance, it gives a greater appreciation for the value of food, farms and God's bounty.

Gleaning is very biblical. When I hear about people wishing to reform our economy to better aid the poor, I think it would be nice if we could encourage this form of gleaning. How much better if that food that cannot be harvested go to the poor rather than being wasted? How much better to encourage the poor to work for their food? How much better to encourage the wealthy not to hold on to every last scrap of what they have?

You do not have to be poor to glean, though. Nor do you have to go to a farm far away from your urban or suburban life. As I mentioned above, there are parks and cities with edible landscaping that might be available to you I (cherries and plum are common). There are neighbors who might have a fruit tree or two or extra vegetables or a nut tree. Most gardeners end up growing far more than they can use or store and are happy to pass it on to others who can use it. Something that is nice to do if you are gleaning from a friend's bounty is to use some of what you gather to make into a bread, cake, preserve, pickle or something similar that you can give them. Or, if you have some other skill like soap making or if you make your own bread (which was what I traded for eggs for almost a year), you can give something of that craft to them instead.

Some churches have a produce exchange during the summer. You don't have to bring something to take something home, though if you have extras from your garden it is a nice way to share with others. I've mentioned Freecycle before. Search on your town or county's name to find a group close to you. People give away their fruit and vegetables from spring to fall. Sometimes people with fruit trees or vegetable plants offer the opportunity to pick. We have gotten apples, pickling cucumbers, dill weed and other herbs, habanero peppers, tomatoes, red onions, scallions, eggplant, squash, zucchini, chard and all sorts of other produce this way. We've gotten seeds and bulbs and plants for our own garden this way as well. I have seen people asking for opportunities to glean as well. I've heard that Craigslist sometimes has listings like this. Recently we found out about Veggie Trader which is a kind of produce swap meet. Perhaps you have a neighbor or family member or friend of a friend who has tons of jalapenos or plums coming out their ears. If you can use them, you will be doing them a service as well as providing for your family for no extra money.

Gleaning and bartering are my favorite ways of getting good produce and other foods. You get to know the people who raise or make the food, you get to work a little in the outdoors and share what you have as well. We have been able to reduce our food bill by quite a bit using methods like this, all while having some of the freshest food available to us. All of the food in the photo, for instance, was gleaned this past weekend. Saturday evening, Rich went to a men's dinner where there were potatoes and butternut squash for the taking that had been offered by a neighbor of ours. So, Rich brought some home. The next afternoon, we went to the home of our neighbor to pick pears, as I mentioned, came home with 25-30 pounds of Christmas pears, almost all the rest of their Riesling grapes, about 40 pounds, which had been touched by the frost, and probably 20 pounds of walnuts ready to dry.

Have you gleaned anywhere this year? Where do you see opportunities to glean in your neighborhood or town? Please share your experiences and ideas.

Previous Posts:
Make it at Home
Grocery Shopping
Waste Not, Want Not
The Celery Stalks at Midnight
Use What You Have
Combining Trips
Storing Bulk Purchases
Turn It Off
Grow Your Own
Buying in Bulk

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Hi - love your blog. I was just in the process of writing a blog post about this specifically when my friend Heidi directed me to your blog. I am inspired to glean even more after reading this.
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