My "Shopping" Trip at the Farmer's Market

On Sunday, I was in the city and went with my friend Cara to the farmer's market. I got so many things!
(I had planned on writing this post on Sunday, or at the latest Monday, but Lee has chicken pox, so I've been a little distracted...)

Here's what I got in the market:
6 heads of cauliflower and some more cauliflower leaves
3 bunches of celery
1 bunch of swiss chard
A ton of onions (probably 4-5 pounds)
Some strawberries
1 cantaloupe
A few carrots
A few small zucchini
2 cucumbers
1 red pepper
1 banana
1 nectarine
1 loquat
1 bit of fennel

Total cost: $0

Yup, it was all free. Hence the "shopping" in quotations in the title.

Because even though I did end up spending 10 dollars at the store on Sunday to buy a few more stuff (because I was making a meal for 2 different friends who just had babies and didn't think they'd appreciate my "strange" foods), and doing a real shop at the grocery store yesterday because I needed some special stuff for my sick kid, I'm still trying to keep the spirit of my challenge for the most part- trying to spend as little as possible on groceries, via foraging and gleaning fruits, veggies, etc...

Since foraging pickings are pretty slim round these parts this season (we have an abundance of grape leaves, but other than that, not so much...) I decided to forage at the farmers market. Or shop. Or trash pick. Not sure the right word...

I mentioned on Facebook that I got a whole bunch of produce for free at the farmer's market, and people wanted to know how on earth I managed to do that.

Shamelessly. That's how.
Doing what others probably would be embarrassed to do. But again, I'm not.

When I was in the farmer's market (I went with the intention of doing this, not to actually buy anything), I walked around the market, some of the stalls were already closed. On top of some of the empty stalls, I saw about 10 cauliflowers just sitting there. I asked the stall owner of the nearest stall who was selling those cauliflowers and was told that they're heading to the garbage, and I could take them if I wanted.
Now I'll be honest, those cauliflowers were a little sad looking. A lot of their florets had brown at the end of them, and they were a little wilty. (You could probably see this in the above picture if you look closely.) They couldn't just be used as is- the ends of the florets would need to come off.
But free is free, and I've bought cauliflower in the store, left it in my fridge too long, and it looked like that, so I took off the icky parts and used the rest, so why not these? I took 6 cauliflower- would have taken more, only I wanted to save room for other things I wanted to get at the farmer's market.
(Yesterday I went to the supermarket to buy some stuff for my chicken poxy kid, and the cauliflower there ALSO had this discoloration on the ends, and it was being sold for full price!)
These cauliflowers need to be taken care of or used within the next little bit. I'm chopping off the icky parts, washing and cutting up the rest, and freezing some for later, and with the rest I'm making a quiche, aloo gobi (potato and cauliflower curry) and soup.

Once I had all that success getting free cauliflower, I got really revved up to try and do a little more "extreme" foraging at the market, to get as much free food as I could. And yes, that did mean getting my hands "dirty".

I walked with Cara around the market, keeping my eyes peeled for piles of boxes, destined for the garbage. In many of the boxes, there were vegetables that the owners of the produce stand decided weren't sellable. I'd look in those boxes, pick up the boxes and look into the boxes beneath them, to see what was there. In one pile of boxes, I found 3 terrific looking bunches of celery, not really different than what they sell in the store. I found a bunch of swiss chard past its prime but still usable, some perfect looking cucumbers, just with their end broken off, some slightly wilted but otherwise good looking carrots, a melon that was mostly good other than a part of it that needed to be cut off, a pepper that was perfect other than one dime sized soft spot that needed to be removed.
I found other boxes with a banana, a perfect loquat, a perfect nectarine, and some strawberries. They had gotten a bit knocked up, which is why they no longer were being sold, but produce often gets knocked up that same amount just on my way home from the store, which is why those things didn't turn me off...

Basically, the boxes were filled with stuff that would be sold at my local grocery store on the reduced rack. I see no difference between reduced rack produce and these free produce... other than the cost, of course. The quality is the same. Sometimes even better...

I also got free veggies by methods other than looking in the boxes designated as the garbage pile. If I would see a box filled with sorry looking vegetables near a stand, I would ask the sellers if those stuff were theirs. Sometimes they were, sometimes they pointed me to the real owner. I then asked how much they were being sold for. Sometimes I was given a low price, sometimes I was told that they're free, and I should help myself. Which is how I ended up with a large box filled with onions.

The amount of veggies I got is more than enough to feed our family for a bit. And I got so encouraged by what I found there that I intend on making a weekly trip to the farmer's market for free produce. (And as for how much I have to pay in transportation to get there, I had to pay $2.50 for the bus there and back. Totally worth that.)

I had fun going to the farmer's market, especially returning with so much free food...

Was that dumpster dived food, or does it have a name if I just got the stuff from garbage piles and not from actual garbage bins?
Who knows?
Who cares?
I didn't muck around in any trash cans or need to sort through grossness like dirty diapers, etc... So, in my opinion, it was just foraging for free stuff...

P.S. In case you were wondering, there definitely was stuff I passed up on. Stuff that were rotten, gross looking, or spoiled... Just because I like free stuff doesn't mean I will feed my family disgusting or unhealthy things. I only took things that were of a high enough quality that I would buy those types of things at the reduced rack in the store.

So, have you ever gotten free veggies, other than by growing them yourself? How do you get them? 
Would you be willing to do such a thing at the farmer's market? If no, would you be willing to buy things from the reduced rack at the grocery store, and if yes, what's the difference in your mind? Or are you the type that needs your produce to look perfect?
What would you call what I did? Dumpster diving? Cleaning? Trash picking? Or just scoring a bargain?

Linking up to Frugal Days Sustainable Ways Simple Lives Thursday

Penniless Parenting

Mommy, wife, writer, baker, chef, crafter, sewer, teacher, babysitter, cleaning lady, penny pincher, frugal gal


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  1. I had a similar experience with a grocery store that would let me take the stuff they were throwing out home. They would often offer me entire 20 lb boxes for aged produce at a very reduced price, like $2 or free. So often there was just one bad apple (cliché, I know) or only the top layer was bad. At home, I removed the bad, and washed everything else with vinegar water solution to remove any unseen mold that may remain on the good stuff. I do consider what you do and what I did scoring a bargain. Many people are above such actions, which is fine. But I do have guilt or uneasiness, and that is because I can afford to pay full price. I see people in line with me who are using food stamps to purchase their full price items. I'm also a second hand clothing shopper when I see people who I know don't make half of our salary shopping at the mall and deep in debt. I believe frugality is a skill, and I feel guilty/selfish/sorry for those who don't have it.

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