Finding Free Organic Produce

Blackberries ripen in the August sun, cherries plop onto neighbors’ lawns, and squash crops overwhelm backyard gardeners.  There is nothing I love more than taking advantage of summer’s opportunities for hand-picked fruit—especially when it’s free, organic, and grown locally. 

Here are my favorite food finding tips:

Wild berries: Blackberries seem to be a national favorite but huckleberries, salmon berries, and thimbleberries are just a few of the other choices available here in Oregon. I usually call our city maintenance department to check about which areas are being sprayed, ask about berry hot spots, and end up picking loads of free organic berries! I slather my clan up with sunscreen and scramble out the door in the morning hours before the sun zaps our enthusiasm.  Then we freeze the berries or make them into jam to last through the winter months.

Fruit trees: My goal is to load up with fruit from a neglected apple tree this year. When I see a tree with rotten fruit under it, I shall screw up my courage, knock on the door and ask if I can pick some.  (My son’s charm might help.)  Even if the homeowner wants to use the fruit, chances are he or she will reach a point of saturation with fresh cherries/apples/pears.  Also, here in Oregon, we have the Portland Fruit Tree Project, which helps save urban fruit from rotting away on city sidewalks. You can check out their website to donate to their cause or to join a local harvesting party.  A large portion of the fruit they save goes to vulnerable people who need healthy, organic food.  In other areas, try to call city maintenance to see where city-owned fruit trees are located.

Tomatoes, zucchini, squash and other garden faire: Although it’s wonderful to grow a prolific garden, slogging through twenty pounds of summer squash in a few weeks is no easy task.  On the first days of September, my fellow teachers often leave heaping boxes of squash, tomatoes and zucchini in our staff room for the taking.  It’s worth it to let your friends and family know that you’ll welcome their garden overflows and then sit back and enjoy the unique flavor of a homegrown food.   You may be inspired to grow your own garden next year!

Damaged fruit:  According to Parade Magazine, grocery stores toss an estimated $20 billion worth of food annually.  While it might be tough to get large chain stores to offer you a discount on imperfect produce, independent grocery stores sometimes have a damaged fruit and veggie section.  If not, ask the manager if you can get produce for free or for a discounted rate when it needs to be removed from store shelves for disposal.  You can always cut away the bad sections and use the rest to make soups or sauces. 

By picking the food yourself or saving it from the grocery store dumpster, you’ll be cutting your costs and ensuring that local food doesn’t go to waste.  Instead of buying kiwis from Chile next January, you can happily pull those local blackberries out of the freezer for a low-emissions, no-cost treat!

Every week the Green Baby Guide will be hosting the Thrifty Green Thursday Blog Carnival.  If you have a blog and some thrifty green ideas of your own, please join us!  See this post for details.


  1. Thank you for posting the link to the Oregon Fruit Tree Project. My apartment complex has several huge and very fruitful apple trees which I have longingly eyed the past two years we’ve lived here. They are the same variety my grandmother used to have in her backyard and I have many wonderful memories of warm apple pie made from the yellow transparents. You can’t find them in stores because they go bad too quickly. YOu have to use them right away. The trouble is, the trees have been allowed to grow without regular pruning and the branches are now way too high to reach and so the fruit falls and quickly rots. I am going to talk to my apartment manager and see if we can’t get a harvest party here. Might be a fun way to bond with the neighbors too!

  2. Hi Ladies,
    What a fab post – food for free and you’re so right; we have apples and plums that drop onto the roads over here in the autumn while everyone drives past and buys them, imported from the supermarket.

    I’ve written something about zero waste and saving money and also Go Green and save money

    Have a wonderful day and I hope lots of people add their posts too 🙂

  3. Thrifty Green Thursday:
    I hope I have done this right – it is Thursday in New Zealand!!!

    As a family, we at Organic Baby have gone back to the days of food co-ops. Rather than ordering a fruit/vege box for our family each week (at $30-$55). We have a large fortnightly fruit delivery box which we share between three families (costing us just over $18 per family per fortnight). We grown our own vege and buy more as & when required (no waste).

  4. Happy Thrifty Green Thursday! I’ve posted about Free Fun with the kids over on my blog at

  5. Wow, I never knew these ideas existed! I’m going to be on the look out for fruit trees now. Oh my goodness, I just realized we do have some very near by. On a walk a long time ago my husband and I picked and ate some of the apples! This sounds like a good playgroup outing in the making.

    I’ve posted about creative flooring here at my new blog about being greener

    I’m enjoying all the other blogs as well!

  6. Eileen, a neighborhood harvesting party sounds like a great idea. You could follow it up with a pie bake-off!

    Thanks to everyone who’s joined the blog carnival so far–I’ve enjoyed reading all your excellent thrifty green tips!

  7. Big chain groceries get a bit weird about selling or giving away their ‘seconds.’ Some of them go to liquidators. For instance, I recently found organic fair trade chocolate for 50 cents a bar at my local cut-price grocery.

    These places are worth a visit, if you have one in your community. The discounts can be huge, usually on a limited produce selection; but mainly on a great deal of packaged goods, like organic cheese, tea, cereal, canned goods.

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