A friend told me recently that she wanted to start feeding herself and her family more nourishing foods. Their diet consisted of boxed meals, freezer pizzas and fast food takeout. You can imagine how happy I was to lend my advice.
I told her that it was so great that she wanted to make the shift and that summer time was the perfect time to make the shift because of the abundance of fresh foods that could be obtained for little to no money.
The Beauty of Bartering
Before I get into these excellent summer food sources, I just want to mention that a lot of good stuff can be found for free or little money through the ancient art of bartering.
Bartering is a beautiful thing, whether you’re living on a tight budget or can spend as freely as you like. But it’s really great for tight budget because it allows you to get something you need in exchange for something you already have or are good at.
For instance, I wanted some great photos taken and I had the perfect photographer in mind, I just couldn’t put it in the budget. So I offered up my website design skills. (Proof that you don’t even have to be a pro to barter services).
I got the best photography session ever and beautiful photos and I’m creating a clean, professional web presence where people can view her work and contact her for a session. Win!
Back to food.
The CSA or Community Supported Agriculture share is a great way to go for getting fresh, local food delivered to you on a weekly basis. Often organic veggies, some CSAs even offer cheeses, meats and other health food goodness.
In our area, they usually run $125 a month and require you to pay for 3 or 4 months in advance. This is a wonderful way to support local farms and get more fresh foods into your diet. And there’s always a chance that farmers would be willing to barter for labor or a skill that you have. It never hurts to ask. My friend is doing deliveries for a local CSA in exchange for a free family share.
2. Farmer’s Markets
I love summer because it brings with it Farmer’s Markets that are brimming with fresh foods. My favorite is in Bend, about an hour from us (we’re kind of in the boonies). They have cheese, baked goods, fresh veggies of all kinds, kombucha (mmmmm) and live music. It’s awesome.
It’s great getting to know different farmers and find out where my food comes from. I also love that this food is really fresh – it hasn’t been trucked in from thousands of miles away or sprayed with stuff that will make the color more rich. If eating healthy is new to you, try visiting a farmer’s market and bringing home one or two veggies to incorporate into your meals this week.
Anyone have any extra… I’ve posted this before on Facebook and never fail to receive what I’m looking for. Whether it’s food or tools, or anything really, I can usually borrow it from my friends or get it super cheap or free. There’s also the fun bartering that comes into play – I’ll give you my extra bag of spinach if I can get a jar of your homemade jam.
It’s also a great way to prevent food waste. I cleaned out my cupboards last year and had some jars of molasses (I don’t know why I bought it, we never use it) and some other things I thought we needed but didn’t. I didn’t want to throw them away, so I put it on Craigslist. A few hours later, up pulled a friend to take away my molasses and she even brought me some apples. Score!
Freecycle.org is a great place to sign up to get local stuff for … free! Usually it’s furniture or homeschool supplies, but sometimes it’s food or plants. Sign up and choose daily digest, immediate emails or to just check the forum so you can get first dibs on what you need.
You can also put requests on Freecycle, so if you’re looking for some cucumbers, post it. Someone may be wondering how on earth they’re going to eat all of the ones they’ve harvested.
It may be a little late to start from seed, but investing in some plants and good soil will yield you a healthy crop this summer. We’re doing this for the first time this year. (Our seeds actually got put in the ground!) It’s so exciting to see our peas climbing our fence and my potted lettuce should be done next week. This is food at it’s freshest and a small investment will yield you quite a bit of return.
If processed correctly – frozen, turned into jam or relish or canned, you can enjoy your garden well into winter. I plan to beg my friend Keli, food preserver-extraordinaire, to come and teach me her magic. Hey Keli, I’ll throw in a fresh loaf of sourdough bread and some good home brew!
6. Gardening Friends
If you’ve got a black thumb (mine is slowly turning green) or you just don’t have time to garden or you forgot again, you may have some friends who love to garden and do so without killing all of their plants. Attach yourself to these friends and offer your undying love in exchange for their extra bounty.
It would also help to offer watering and weeding help, or an extra hand when it comes time to can.
7. Local Farms
Local farms are a great source for healthy food. In the Willamette Valley (a few hours from us), berries grow like crazy. I’m so jealous. Many farms will allow you to go there and pick the fruit you want, often at a price that’s much lower than you’ll find in stores or even at farmer’s markets.
We did that once at an apple orchard and not only did we get amazing, crisp apples, but the kids had a blast, too. My sister-in-law and I will be making a trek up there next month for berries to turn into jam. If I don’t eat them all on the way back, that is.
You can find a lot of stuff on Craigslist. Cars. Homes. Even food. One year, I was interested in buying part of a grass-fed cow and put a note up on Craigslist expressing that interest. I received several emails back within the first few hours. If you can afford to buy meat in bulk, this is a great place to start looking.
If you can’t, you can also ask around and see if anyone would be willing to split the cost with you. My parents are talking about buying part of a cow now, which would significantly reduce the cost we’d have to pay, and we’d still have plenty of meat to last the rest of the year (we’ve really lowered our meat consumption). If you don’t have any family that wants to, you could always ask people on Facebook…
My in-laws live in said Willamette Valley and they have blackberry bushes growing like crazy along their secluded road. They think they’re a nuisance! I love berries, so whenever we’re there in berry season, I take a bowl and head down the road for some plump blackberries.
Depending on where you live, you may be able to forage food that nobody else wants. When I went to visit the afore-mentioned Keli in October, she taught me a little something about foraging. While I was there, we picked up walnuts that had fallen from the tree in her yard. Then we went for a walk and found a little pear tree that was dropping fruit. She told me stories about fruit and nut trees she had found that were neglected, just begging for someone to lighten their load.
You could find this stuff, too. Keep your eyes open as you walk and be discerning. You probably don’t want berries from along a busy highway – chemicals, exhaust and such. But you may find fruits, veggies, nuts, herbs or other good stuff that grows near you that nobody takes care of.
10. Community Gardens
I discovered some community gardens last year and how glad I was. Turns out, they’re everywhere! We have a few in our rural community, some planted in church lots, others along popular trails. These gardens are planted for everyone and produce is free for the taking. Usually, they just ask that you pull some weeds while you’re picking your produce. My kids had no problem with that and they loved running to different bushes to see what they had for them.
If you don’t know where to find them, ask around at church, your local health food store or my favorite, Facebook.
I want to leave you with a few resources for finding the good stuff I mentioned.
Local Harvest – connecting people to local farms.
Home Canning – helping you preserve your fresh produce.
Freecycle – reducing waste.
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