5 Frugal Ways to Enjoy Local Produce Without a Garden

posted by Andrea | 07/16/2012

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Ever since Dave and I moved to our farmhouse, we’ve been spending SO much time renovating the inside that we haven’t had a chance to put in our vegetable garden yet.

It’s already been two summers without our own fresh fruites and veggies… and we’re starting to get “restless”. We’ve decided that next spring/summer, we will focus on a garden. Yeah, I’m just a little excited!

If you share my enthusiasm for fresh-from-the-garden produce but don’t have the time, space, or ability to grow your own… then keep reading.

The following is a guest post from Lisa of Cooking Up a Sale:

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Fresh produce is abundant in our area right now! We had a hot spring, so everything is ready a little earlier than normal.

My extended family and friends are all happily harvesting their abundance… while I stare mournfully at my poor pepper plants, eaten down to the stalks by rabbits. I have the brownest thumb of anyone I know!

Despite my brown thumb, we still manage to enjoy plenty of local produce without taking out a loan… and you can too!

Here are five of my favorite FRUGAL ways to enjoy local produce even if you don’t have a garden.

1. Visit your local Farmer’s Market

We have three different markets nearby, all of which are open on different days. To find a market in your area, go to www.localharvest.org. I’ve found that most vendors in the markets have similar prices, but if you’re looking to save a few bucks, try these tips:

  • Go at the end of the day. The selection will not be as varied, but you might be able to talk a vendor into coming down on price instead of taking his extra produce home.
  • Pre-order. If you find a stall that you really like, ask what they’ll be selling next week. If it’s something you want to can or freeze, see if you can place an order now and catch a break on the price.
  • Buy in bulk. If you’re offering to clear out someone’s inventory (again, with plans to can or freeze) they might be willing to cut you a deal.

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2. Join a CSA Group 

Joining a CSA group (Community-Supported Agriculture) means that early in the year (usually January-April), you purchase a “share” of a local farm. The farmer benefits because he has cash flow early in the season as well as guaranteed buyers for his produce. You benefit because come summer, you’ll receive approximately 20 weeks of fresh, local (and sometimes organic!) produce.

The membership fee might seem daunting in January, but the investment is well worth it. Our CSA breaks down to about $10 per week, and by my estimation, we get well over $10 worth of produce each week. While you can’t really get a deal on a share, there are a few ways you can save money when you join a CSA.

  • Join early. Some farms offer a small discount if you sign up by a certain date.
  • Split a share with a friend. A full share is usually a HUGE amount of produce. Splitting a share ensures that nothing will go to waste before you can eat it/freeze it. It also means that you can take turns picking up your share, therefore saving money on gas.
  • Order extra produce to can or freeze. Some farms offer discounted produce to shareholders who want more than what appears in their weekly box.

Keep in mind that if you’re not already part of a CSA group, you’ll have to wait until next year to join one.

3. Go Picking

Strawberries, blueberries, cherries, and more are all available as U-Pick crops in our area… and possibly in your area too.

Picking is a fun activity to do with your kids, and picking your own fruit is much cheaper than buying it already-picked from the orchard. In addition, picking your own fruit and freezing it costs only half of what you’d pay for frozen fruit at the grocery store!

Not all U-Pick farms are created equal, so do your research. If no- or low-spray crops are important to you, make sure to quiz the farmer. If you want the same huge, sweet blueberries your friend picked, ask her about her favorite U-Pick patch.

4. Glean

Otherwise known as “begging” :)

Before my grandparents moved to their condo, they had a large vegetable garden. Without fail, they had more zucchini and tomatoes than they knew what to do with, so they put a basket of veggies on their porch and we could grab what we wanted.

Do you have a friend with an over-abundance of green beans? Or a neighbor who grows big, beautiful tomatoes? A brother with some wild blackberry bushes behind his house? Or an aunt with a cherry tree? Some people can, freeze, or sell everything they grow, but others will say “pick what you want!”

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5. Stop at a road-side stand

This time of year, I can’t drive more than a mile without seeing a road-side stand full of fresh local produce! Many of these stands are the result of someone who doesn’t have time to can or freeze every bit of produce they grow, but can’t stand to see all that good produce going to waste. This means the prices are usually pretty reasonable, and sometimes even cheaper than what you can find at the farmer’s markets.

If you don’t have the time or space for a garden (or you just have a brown thumb like me), take heart! You can still enjoy plenty of fresh, local produce without blowing your grocery budget.

Where do you get your local produce?

Lisa DeBoer is a West Michigan wife and mother who loves to spend time in the kitchen. She enjoys the challenges of menu-planning around grocery sales and creating delicious food using on-sale ingredients. Lisa blogs about two of her favorite topics ~ FOOD, and saving money on groceries ~ at Cooking Up a Sale.
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8 comments

  1. Lynn Oyama

    07/16/2012

    We love our garden! Next year we plan on doing raised beds. Our Zucchini plant is producing like rabbits! I’m trying to do whatever I can with them including freezing them grated and sliced both. I’ve put them in my Salsa too! I, however, cannot wait to see pictures of your finished kitchen! :)

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  2. Laurel

    07/16/2012

    Get my local produce in my backyard! My gardens keep getting bigger and bigger each year. Something satisfying about growing and canning and freezing your own homegrown veggies and fruits.

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  3. Michelle H.

    07/16/2012

    Great ideas! I love SOL & Cooking Up a Sale! Great to see the two together!

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  4. Kaui @ Thrifty Military Mommy

    07/16/2012

    We have a CSA in our area that’s totally organic and we LOVE it! We’ve been part of it since we moved to this station which has been about a year and a half now. The prices are excellent for organic and we get TONS of fruits and veggies. I’ll be so sad when we have to move again because I don’t want to give up my organic CSA!!!

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  5. Stel

    07/17/2012

    Just read this morning in a new local magazine about a South African living in Holland, Michigan, who also gets her veggies from a CSA.
    I wanted to ask earlier – you (or Dave then) must also be of Dutch descent, with a surname Dekker? Just like Lisa DeBoer – and what an applicable surname that is :-) Lisa The Farmer.

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    Lisa Reply:

    Yes, I married a “farmer” :) His parents farmed in Iowa/Minnesota, and then in Coopersville for a few years, so their lifestyle fit their last name well. You’d think that between that, and my dad being a landscaper that I’d be able to grow something other than peppers. But alas, the green thumb gene seems to have missed me!

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    Andrea Reply:

    Yup, we’re 100% Dutch :) And we come from a long line of farmers too! Dave’s parents were actually dairy farmers in Washington when he was young.

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  6. jennifer

    07/19/2012

    Road side stands are the best! I have gotten 10 avocados for $2, a big bag of sweet oranges for $1, even pomegranates, which are always expensive in the store, were a bag of five for $2 last season. I always keep cash in my car just in case I pass by a stand and want to stop.

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