Tuesday, September 27, 2016

An Insane Amount of Food... For Insanely Little

My arms hurt. My whole body is tired... I think a big part of that is because of how much food I carried home from the market today in my cart...
I'm doing the math to figure out just how much the entire thing weighed... 156.5 lbs of food- 145 lbs of it produce, and 11.5 lbs animal products.
Just thinking about how much that would generally cost in a grocery store or even a cheap one would definitely not even remotely give a clue as to how much my shop cost me...
You see, for my 156.5 lbs of food I paid... get this- $20!!! Ok, and 70 cents.

Just part of today's shop. Not counting all the things I got free.
I hadn't planned on going shopping for produce this week, since we still had a decent amount. Though we were nearly out of fruit, so could use with a topping off over there. But I would need some produce next week, and I wouldn't have a chance to go to the market next week, so I figured that I might as well go this week. A few people had been asking me when I'd be teaching a class on frugal shopping at the market, and today worked out for the most people. So I went, intending to top off my produce as needed, and instead came home with 145 lbs of produce!

How did that happen?

Well, as I was teaching my class, pointing out where the best places to shop for the lowest prices, all about reduced rack produce and how to get the best bargains, I showed them how many vendors put all their produce that they don't think they can sell in boxes in a pile, and you can help yourself to it, and as I was explaining that, I was amazed at just how much produce there was there. The free produce, I told them, isn't stuff that I'd pay for generally, because it usually has parts that you need to cut away, but if it's free, I'm not going to complain and am willing to pay for that.

So after my class, I first came back to where I saw all that free stuff, hoping it would still be there, as it gets cleared periodically, and not only did I find what I saw there before, but got even more!

Here's what I got free this shop!

Firstly there were a bunch of pears. And I'll be honest, these pairs were far from prime. They were soft, mushing, some breaking apart. And I knew that on the way home they'd mush even further. I would never pay for pears like that, even 20 cents a pound, because they're pears that need to be cooked, and immediately, and I couldn't get the benefit I'd get from fruit as I usually do- being able to just snack on it and have the kids snack on it. But for free? Sure, why not?
So I took that home (and yes, it did get mushed even more on the way, despite my being careful) and cooked it up today. 5.5 lbs of pears free.

Then melons- I took 3 melons, each with a spot that needed to be cut off, but otherwise perfect! 8.4 lbs free.

There was a box of pumpkin scraps, and there were two pieces of pumpkin in there, one giant piece and one smaller piece. Perfect ones. I guess when they were cutting up the pumpkin they meant to just put the scraps in there but accidentally threw out some perfect stuff. I don't know, because otherwise I can't figure out why it was thrown out. 5.3 lbs pumpkin.

I also got a handful of scallions, and a mango free.

Then the vendor at the nearby stall tried to push his wares on me- most of them super cheap. He knows I like a good bargain, but sometimes pushes me to take more than I was prepared to take. That's kind of what happened today and how I ended up with 145 lbs of produce when my intention was just to top it off.
So the first thing I bought from him was fresh dates. 5 lbs for $5.71, the most expensive part of my shop at $1.14 per pound... This was a bit of a splurge, but the season for fresh dates is so short so I figured, why not...

He saw me taking the free produce so offered me a free watermelon as well, and as I was putting that into my bag a different vendor walked up to me and said "Hey, I just dropped and cracked this watermelon and can't sell it anymore- you can have it for free." The first free watermelon looks and tastes perfect, not sure why he was giving it free (but I think it was to make room on his display for other things he was trying to sell).
He gave me a box of purple onions, 14.3 lbs, for $1.42, which worked out to be 10 cents a lb.

He had a section of his stall with zucchinis, squash, carrots, cucumbers, tomatoes, a few peppers, and a fennel listed at 13 cents a pound. He said he wanted to get rid of the whole thing, and if I'd take the lot, he'd give it to me for $8.50. I told him I didn't want all that, I had cucumbers at home already, but I wanted zucchinis, squash, and carrots and I'd buy them at 13 cents a pound.
But he pressured me to take the cucumbers as well, for $7.14 for all the cukes, carrots, zucchinis, and squashes. 33 lbs of cucumbers!!!!!!!! and 7.7 lbs of carrots and 11.9 lbs of zucchinis, squash, and a pepper. That worked out to what he was charging for them anyhow, 13 cents a pound.
And then he threw in the tomatoes- all 20 lbs of them, and a fennel, for free. Those tomatoes were something I didn't want to pay for since they would squash on the way, but the vendor kept on pushing me to take it, showed me how to pile it onto my cart too, saying "use it to make sauce". Fine, fine, I'll take the tomatoes...

We still needed a few more things, even after all that, so I went and bought some apples and a few pomegranates- 12.5 lbs total, at 39 cents a pound, for $4.86 and avocados, the first I'd have this season, 2.4 lbs for 65 cents a pound, for a total of $1.57, or $6.43 for the shop.

Total expense for my groceries? $20.

For 145 lbs of my produce.

But in addition to all that, a butcher at the market gave me a box of his scraps, chicken bones and chicken skin, totally free. 11.5 lbs.

Somehow, somehow I managed to get it home. And then did so much with what I now had... but that will have to be saved for tomorrow's post.

Update: Here's how I dealt with and preserved a good amount of what I brought home. 

If you were given the option to have free produce, but they weren't in great condition, and they'd need to be used right away, to the extent that they were a quality that you wouldn't pay for, not even reduced rack prices, would you take them? Are you less picky about items when they're free?
If you got all these things, what would you do with them?
Got any great deals lately?


  1. Awesome! Was this at a farmer's market?

    1. Pretty much. Less farmer's market, but more like a traditional market from other parts of the world, also known as a "souk (from the Arabic), bazaar (from the Persian), a fixed mercado (Spanish), or itinerant tianguis (Mexico), or palengke (Philippines)." https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Market_(place)

  2. Definitely, I do it all the time. There is an organization in town that gives away produce once a week for poor people who qualify for it. I don't qualify thankfully, but whatever is not taken at the end of the day I am allowed to come pick up. (This is something I arranged with them and they are quite happy that I take it, before me it was often left out to rot.) Some of the produce is nice, some is half rotten - I get whatever no else wanted, by the time I get it it's been completely picked through. But I'm quite surprised at how picky some people are even when being offered free produce. Often times there will be a ton of a certain fruit or vegetable left and I'll be told that it didn't really go today because it had some minor defect. Some people would rather pay full price for perfect produce than get free produce that needs to be cut around a bit.
    First I let all my friends and neighbors come and take what they want. Then I figure out how to use up the rest.
    Whenever there is a lot of something, I typically cook it. Peppers become an awesome pepper dip. Apples, pears, and peaches, are turned into compote or pies or sauces. Bananas are frozen and then either consumed frozen or used in smoothies or cake. Oranges last a very long time in the refrigerator, as do apples, so my kids take those for snacks. I don't like any cooked cucumber recipes, but we eat those raw - as salad, or cut up with dinner. We can go through quite a few cucumbers at a time... I don't love cooked tomato dishes so I try to consume as many as possible raw, but if there are a lot or they are too mushy I will use then in different cooked dishes. I once got tons and tons of raw mushrooms, way more than we could consume before spoilage. I cooked them all, like flash fried them, and then froze them in batches and use them in cooking the same way I'd use canned mushrooms. Actually, because of the way I cooked them before freezing they tasted exactly like canned mushrooms. Carrots and sweet potatoes I often use for soups, especially in the cold weather. Onions and potatoes last a very long time and I use those in my everyday cooking. I rarely ever go produce shopping. We pretty much manage from whatever free produce we get and I base my meals around what we got that past week or two for free. I also use the produce to make my own baby food - I've pureed food that you typically don't find in baby jars, such as melon and beets and my babies gobble them up.

    1. That is really awesome that you get that much free produce regularly!!

    2. And what you do with it is amazing!!

  3. This is amazing Penny! But I think for the sake for your body and mental health, it's time to start taking the hubby (if he's free) to your excursions)

    1. Thank you! That would never happen- he freaks out at the market, he gets sensory overloaded there and simply cannot handle it. One time I tried taking him with me, like 7 years ago, he lasted maybe 15 seconds before he begged to leave. Lol this is something I can't involve him in. But I'm really strong and I can manage this. When I said I was sore, I didn't mean in a bad way, more like after a very intense but good workout.

  4. We definitely need to hear about how you were able to preserve all that bounty Penny! I love finding great bargains but have trouble figuring out how to use it all up (or preserve it) before it spoils. Thanks so much for your blog--I read it faithfully!

    1. Thank YOU jen! Posted it here: http://www.pennilessparenting.com/2016/09/preparing-and-preserving-free-past.html

  5. You had a great shopping trip! I'm so happy for you and yes, I would definitely take anything for free and see what I could salvage. In the last year or so we've moved into a smallish trailer and so I no longer have a lot of food storage space, so I've taken up dehydrating, and I am so pleased about it! Also, if I am given something and can't find a way to use it all, I share with the neighbors. I try very hard not to let any food go to waste. http://simplyhomemaking60.blogspot.com/2016/09/dehydrating-chapter-2.html

    1. Sharing with neighbors is the best. I did that this time. :-D

  6. What is the light green thing in with the squashes? I see them all the time but I haven't bought one yet to try... Thanks :)

  7. Again, I am amazed at how cheap produce are where you live, woah!!!


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