Many of us recognize and acknowledge the benefits of growing our own food. Yet factors such as time, money, space, know-how, and limited resources make maintaining a home garden a less than practical option for everyone.
Luckily there are a few really good alternatives that can help supply us and our families with fresh produce throughout this season of harvest.
1. Find a group of like-minded others. Searching for and joining groups of like-minded others is a great way to purchase substancial amounts of fresh produce cheaply. Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farms and gleaner associations are both excellent ways to get connected. Search these resources to find a group near you:
- LocalHarvest.org – The ultimate resource for finding local farms.
- Your local extension office – Check your local county extension office for gleaner associations in your area.
- BountifulBaskets.org – A growing, volunteer-based weekly buying co-op. Search their site for a group nearest you.
2. Keep your eyes open for roadside stands. Granted these vary based on location and geography, and they tend to populate the roads more heavily when it gets later in the summer, or into early fall, but roadside stands are a great way to enjoy fresh, local produce without having to grow it yourself. Bonus: If you find something really great, take the foods home, and then plan your meals for the next week around them!
3. Farmers markets. Farmer’s markets are a great place for food shopping and networking! Meet the farmers face-to-face, learn what grows in your area, and find a trusted food source. Note: In case you’re interested, here’s my best money-saving farmer’s market tip…go near the end of the advertised market hours. I have had the best luck gleaning the leftovers for a fraction of the price. Farmers are often looking to un-load their remaining stock and they are much more willing to drop the price in order to make a sale.
4. Make friends with an avid gardener. Those who grow a large garden each year always seem to grow a surplus, just in case. If you know someone who gardens faithfully, offer to help in the garden or barter in exchange for produce. Many home gardeners are very happy to have the help and are very likewise willing to share the surplus.
5. Share a garden with someone else. If lack of space is your issue, consider an arrangement where someone else — a friend or family member — who has space for a garden and you share resources and efforts. For example, you could plant a garden in a friend’s backyard and then spend a preset amount of time each week working to cultivate and care for it with your friend. In the end you both would split the harvest.
6. Replace landscape plants with edibles. If your time and space is limited, you could maximize outdoor areas and put in decorative borders full of herbs, rainbow Swiss chard and striking cayenne pepper plants. And instead of the short-lived color of azaleas in the spring, grow blueberries that are decorative year-round. The possibilities are endless and edible landscapes aren’t just pretty – they provide highly-nutritious fruits and veggies that can save you money.
7. Forage. Wild edibles can be found nearly everywhere. Not to far from the “suburban oasis” and chemical lawns, our homes are often times surrounded by groceries – free for the pickin’. From dandelions, wild strawberries, blackberries, and violets, to plantain, clover, and sorrel…I encourage you to learn how to identify the food that grows naturally in your area!
8. “U-Pick” Farms. Making a trip to a “u-pick” farm can be a super fun family activity — and budget-friendly too. For example, there’s an apple orchard near us that allows for the droppings to be sold at an extremely discounted rate. And we often find that strawberries picked by the pint are significantly cheaper than those that are pre-packaged. Click here to search for ”u-pick” farms in your area.
9. Grow a few plants in containers. Growing fruits and vegetables in the ground and keeping a traditional garden may not be an option for several reasons — a lack of backyard space, pets, or homeowner association rules – but growing a few plants in containers or small pots on your porch, patio, or fire escape could provide a workable solution. Be sure to grow the most profitable plants in order to save yourself the most money for your efforts. Read more about growing in small spaces here…
Are you able to grow a garden? If not, what alternatives do you have for acquiring fresh fruits and vegetables?
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Melissa from the Blue House says
We’re in the city and just started our first garden, mostly in containers. Can’t wait til we have room for a REAL garden.
Molly Makes Do says
We’re doing a lot on this list – we have a larger garden we’re taking care of at my parents up the road, container plants at our house (and plans for berry bushes, raised beds and sneaking in veggies as landscaping) and pick up as much as we can from our weekly farmers market and 4 month CSA. We’ve never eaten healthier or been more contentedly busy.
Great tips. We grow our own food in the backyard, but are looking to expand in future years. Right now we have a really large raised bed which houses my strawberry patch, along with cucumbers along the back and some carrots up front, with a little more room for something more. And also we have tomatoes and peppers in large pots and a really large wash tub full of basil, with a rosemary plant hanging out in a chair nearby. I would love to work more edibles into other parts of our yard in coming years and we have plans to use guttering or make some long wood boxes for growing lettuce and possible making cold-frame boxes in the future (but that gets a bit more expensive than we can afford any time soon). Other than that we really need to get better about scheduling in time for the farmers market each week.
Hi! I’ve been reading your blog for a while, I thoroughly enjoy it. I have always had a garden, when I could. My Baba (grandmother) had a huge garden that we spent many a summer in. She taught us how valuable having our own veggies was. Right now, my husband and I grow veggies not only for ourselves for fresh, but for canning/freezing, and we sell at our local farmer’s market. We even considered donating a quarter acre of our property to people who live in the city, a couple of small families, let’s say, who would want to plant their own, tend their own, and reap that benefit. I want to help provide for those who couldn’t grow for themselves. Not everyone has the resources available to do that, and I think we, as a family, have an obligation to give back to our community by growing organic veggies that are affordable for everyone to buy. And you’re right – you grow potatoes in a tire ring, or tomatoes in a pot. Herbs are easily grown on a kitchen window sill. Even a box planter on the balcony of your apartment. Anything is good. There’s nothing better than eating your own fresh produce, no matter how small it may seem! Thanks again for your blog – I enjoy reading!
There are litterally hundreds of thousands of small family farms that are now lying fallow due to older parents not being able to run the farm. We are such. There are also hundreds of thousands of families that can NOT afford to pay farmer’s market and CSA prices. We put a plan together that helps both called a “farm share”. The younger families work the farm, the older owners give advice, give the land and share in the bounty. This is a win win.
We started with two jersey cows, you pay $10 for a lifetime share “ownership” of the farm that gives you a financial interest in the farm and now you are not able to sue yourself. Not the land or buildings, just in the produce. At a cost of $150 for 6 months, you milk the cows on your day and take home all the milk, works out to just under $2 a gallon. I teach moms how to make cheese, yogurt, butter etc. Everyone feeds the calves with their share of the milk, and we raise the calves for 2 years and then butcher at a shared cost, this year $2/lb.
Any family can choose an activity to share in. We gave 1/2 acre this year to a young entrepenuer who is raising heirloom seeds. Another is trying Muscovy ducks. Chickens are all free range, the families bring stale bread etc to feed and collect eggs after milking, included in the price of the milkings. Another family is raising meat chickens. The costs can be kept down by raising our own feed. It does not take a huge lot of land to accomplish this. Now this one is up and going we will sell this farm and start another 45 miles away.This is a true community project.
What a cook idea! I would love to try something like this. One thing about our culture is that essential skills aren’t usually passed down through generations anymore. So my generation learns through books and the internet, and it works, but not as well as hands on experience with a wise person of experience. 🙂
I love this! We would love to expand, teach classes, have milk goats, etc.
We’re on 5 acres (about 2 acres that are fairly flat), but the soil is very rocky for expansion. I was thinking of starting a rotation with other folks that need help in getting things done around their place. We need help with expansion of garden, fencing another pasture, putting up the 8×12 greenhouse, etc. It’s overwhelming with just the two of us. If we had a group to help on one day, then the next Saturday (or every other Saturday), we would all go to someone else’s place and do what they needed done, and rotate with the group. There’s power in numbers:)
We have a garden (hired a tractor to rip up the rock), 36 chickens, 2 llamas, and 2 beehives. We would love to add milk goats, expand the garden, and fence another pasture so we can rotate the animals and plant seed while they are in the other pasture.
Love your idea of offering space to garden, milking, etc.
What a fabulous idea! I wish I was in your area. Do you have a website explaining how you are doing things? I know it would take time that you would probably prefer to use farming but it would help and inspire others to do the same thing. I love the idea of tapping into the wisdom of the elderly before we lose it. Keep up the awesome work!
Rhubarb makes a lovely landscape plant, thyme is nice for edging… I have always been able to have some sort of garden even in the place i rented that had no yard what so ever.
Hats off to @Dusty~
Good advice:) Gardening can be as easy, or as difficult as you like. Serious gardeners with the space and time may choose to plant full gardens and devote hours to working in them and learning about them, but there is nothing stopping anyone from just planting a few of their favorite things without going to all this trouble.
As a shopper and seller at my local Farmers/Crafters Mjarket, I have to inform you that telling people to wait is a really bad idea..for one thing, produce has been sitting in the hot sun all day, and whatever you pay it is often less than at its peak..
For another, the whole point (I would think) of buying from a farmer directly is to get something fresh and at it’s peak…
Farmers work really hard to produce their food, and have to pay to transport it as well as for their space at the Market..try and be a bit more empathetic and less of a cheapskate about it..
I never ask for a discount on what they sell me, even though I am a fellow vendor..I know what it takes to bring this wonderful food to market, and I would not insult my fellow vendors by trying to get a lower price..
I agree Wendi. Our farmers are struggling enough. If we want to continue to have them as a source we need to support them and not try to take advantage of them. I usually patronize the same vendors at our local farmers market. I am often rewarded for that loyalty to them by them giving me a discount or a few extra pieces of produce without me ever asking. I will occasionally do strawberries dipped in chocolate for different events. When I do I will ask the vendor I use in advance for large berries for that purpose. He always brings me the most perfect, huge berries that I would pay a fortune for in the store and doesn’t charge me any extra for them even though I would gladly pay it. It just is all about a good relationship and supporting each other.
I find it harder and harder to grow a Garden. We live in the Mts but have been going thru Drought for Years. Price of water is getting very expensive, and some months we are in usage restrictions. Many Mormons live here and grow Huge Gardens every Year, using water that comes from nearby Lakes. They share with their own, but no Farmers type market. Finding it cheaper to buy on sale at the grocery stores, just wash everything as good as i can.
Kristel from Healthy Frugalista says
You share some great ideas in your post. Gardening is probably the most frugal way to obtain fresh produce (other than having a gardening neighbor who shares).
I just wrote a post about vegetables that will grow in low light levels (less than 6 hours of direct sun) for those who have shady yards and thought they couldn’t have a garden Vegetables That Will Grow in the Shade .
This year I am making a raised bed that should be good to use next year. I started growing lettuce in a pot and herbs, too. Your picture of chard is very nice
Some great ideas there, and I appreciate the links. I do have tomatoes, banana peppers and herbs growing on my deck in pots. I have raspberries at the edge of the woods, but haven’t put in a garden because my lot slopes down steeply, in two directions. My next door neighbors is only one direction, and he has a great garden each year, not even terraced! Some of the women in our church get together and order peaches from Georgia or other things from other places, and it really saves, if you are into canning. There’s no way for me to eat 25 pounds of fresh tomatoes, living alone! So I make salsa and freeze some for soups.
Christena Burnham says
We have very little space for a traditional garden. We usually plant 2 tomato plants and maybe a pepper or two. This year we were introduced to the tower garden and it is awesome! It is a hydroponic growing system that takes up about 3 square feet on the patio. Check it out at christena.towergarden.com I am planning on sharing this year because we are going to have more than we can handle! 🙂