How to Get Free Food When You Don’t Have Much Money

In Money and Finances by M.D. Creekmore

By Frugal Canner

Being the Frugal Fraulein that I am, the word free gives me tingles. This is my favorite time of year. The gardens are calling to be harvested, the trees are laden with fruit, the fish are moving up the streams and the deer and elk are fattening up in orchards and berry thickets. I hear the sound of plink, plink, plink in my head while I have visions of full canning jars filled with free food.

Did you pick up on the word free? Yes, this time of year there is free food everywhere I look. I happen to be among the officially unemployed but no boo hoo hoo from me. I have stored food as a way of life for years and live simply.

Let me share with you some ways to get free food.

Be observant

All year I keep my eyes open for fruit trees and easy access berry thickets on the side of the road and in yards. It is fairly simple to tell which homes are probably not picking their fruit because it is still hanging on the trees.

If the tree sits in a yard, I stop and knock on the door and politely ask if I might pick some fruit in exchange for either leaving some picked fruit on their doorstep or bringing back some canned items. I have never had anyone say no to me in all the years I have done this.

Right now I am watching a plum, apple, Bartlett pear, Asian pear, crab apple, and elderberry trees for the right moment to pick. I have already picked all sorts of wild berries and blueberries. In the Pacific Northwest if you do not pick free blackberries there is something wrong with you!

My supplies are always in the car. I have a couple of “pickers on a stick” and tubs for large fruit and stainless steel bowls, zip lockable bags, handheld pruners and hand wipes for berries. A picker on a stick is simple to make. A bleach bottle is cut and bolted to a broom handle.

This tool allows you to reach higher and pull the fruit off the tree without having it fall and get bruised. Two Christmas’s ago a commercially produced fruit picker was given to me which I also like. I also have a hands free container which is a coffee can that has a wire coat hanger that hooks over the top of my pants.

I always clean up the area where I pick as a service to the homeowner and rake up the drops and deposit them on their compost pile. There are a few homes that actually look forward to my annual visit. I don’t know why they don’t seem to want any canned items but I don’t argue because that is more for me. They just don’t know what they are missing! All for free.

Put the word out

Tell everyone you know you are willing and very happy to take their year-end produce. Towards the end of the season, some folks are tired of zucchini boats, cabbage that might have some brown leaves or slug trails, too many tomatoes or cucumbers or can’t bear the thought of picking any more beans.

I volunteer to clean out the garden and take home the left overproduce. I put up signs, let church-going friends know, club members, post signs on Craigslist and at supermarkets and am not bashful about putting the word out that I will take garden leftovers. All for free.

Make an exchange

This year I offered to advertise for a fellow with a produce stand near my home in exchange for produce. He called me when he had leftovers and I was able to either get them free or at a very low price. Daily these guys have to throw away perfectly good food.

You are doing them a favor by cutting their disposal costs. This arrangement can be made with your local produce man as well. I have known people who said they were picking up produce for their chickens when they were really talking about kids, the humankind. All for free.


A friend of mine who happens to be a member of the L.D.S. church invited me to join a group of ladies that glean a corn farm annually. I thought I was bold taking two plastic tubs with me but to my surprise, these ladies showed up with pickup trucks! It seems the farmer picks two to three times a season and the last of the corn is not worth his effort.

Some are small but most were perfect. It is always an adventure to travel down the tall aisles of corn stalks looking for leftover ears of corn and smelling the sweet smell and hearing the fall crickets and birds chirping.

We have always done this activity late in the day so the sun is setting and fall is in the air. Since my first experience, I have picked corn, cucumbers, and pumpkins as gleaning activities. Most often a percentage is brought to the local Food Bank so others are benefiting as well. All for free.


This year I bartered my canning experience for fresh tuna fish. A local fisherman brought 60 pounds of fish ready to go and I did the canning. Yes, it was labor-intensive and time-consuming but I now have jars of the most delicious tuna in my food storage that is not comparable to that stuff in the can from the supermarket.

I also barter fresh salmon from a neighbor in exchange for babysitting and some extra camping equipment I had. The salmon is usually eaten fresh but I have canned it before. One year the local Native American Tribal caught more salmon than the market could handle and they put out the word to come and get it.

I brought home about 15 very large salmon and canned it. This year I have posted ads for hunters to can meat in exchange for a percentage of the bounty. All for free.

Learn to forage

If available take a class on foraging in your local area to learn which local plants are edible. If no classes are available in your area (and even if they are) then I suggest you get a copy Nature’s Garden: A Guide to Identifying, Harvesting, and Preparing Edible Wild Plants from and The Forager’s Harvest – Wild Food, 2 DVD Set. These are both excellent.

Once you have a knowledge base of what is out there, you can go out and pick, pick, pick. Items can be canned, dehydrated or made into tinctures for healing nutritional purposes.

This year I am picking wild elderberries to make a tincture. Elderberry tincture is good for the flu and it is a great additive to anyone’s medical kit. I have foraged fiddleheads, many types of greens, mint, leaves for tea, wild onions, Oregon grapes, berries, mushrooms. All for free.

MD Creekmore has several great articles here at about foraging for wild foods and I will add links to those below.

Are you getting the idea? Are you inspired? All of you who smart enough to be ants and not grasshoppers do not have to have huge reserves of cash to do food storage.

Just be frugal, bold, polite and the Universe will provide. Please follow my blog for more tips and articles on frugality.

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