Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Gleaning to Keep the Budget on Track

We've always enjoyed gleaning and foraging for food.  I suppose it comes from liking the outdoors and enjoying the time outside in the sunshine.  It's only become more fun now that we have a little one to share this with (though sometimes he eats more of the harvest than we come home with!).

A few of the things we consistently forage or glean are blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, apples, and sometimes peppers or zucchini from a friend's garden.  We can consistently count on gleaning blackberries from the roadside in our neighborhood.  We seem to be the only ones who pick them, aside from the wildlife, so we can generally harvest several gallons over the growing season.  We also glean blueberries from my aunt's property (they no longer live here full time), and raspberries from friends who are overrun with them.  We put these in the freezer or use them to make jam for gifting and for winter enjoyment.

We gather apples from friends' trees for apple pie filling, apple crisp, and applesauce.  We generally freeze the applesauce, though you can also can it in mason jars.  There are also many local apple trees along public sidewalks, so gleaning would be an option there as well.  This year, we put several gallons of applesauce in the freezer to use for winter fruit and for baking.

Sometimes, we have friends who ask us to "garden sit" for them while they're gone on vacation over the summer.  This leads to all sorts of wonderful bounty, mostly squash, zucchini, and peppers.  We've also "chicken sat" for friends, which means that we collect several dozen eggs over the course of a week or so (they have 14 hens).

Recently, I've begun expanding the idea of gleaning to other areas.  I realized that we're always the ones to ask for the turkey carcass after holiday meals, which yields a lot of yummy stock and enough meat for a batch or two of soup.  Last year, we were gifted with four turkey carcasses after the Thanksgiving pot luck at church, which was a wonderful gift when we were just getting used to a much stricter budget.

When we have Sunday dinners at Mom's house, I will often save veggie scraps and bring them home to make veggie stock.  She will sometimes splurge on mushrooms or other veggies that are typically more expensive and out of our budget, so it's nice to use the trimmings for a savory stock.  I'll also save the broccoli and cauliflower stems from her house to add to our freezer bag for soup.  Broccoli and cheese soup is just as tasty with the "trunks", and broccoli isn't always a cheap veggie, so it's not something we make often, though we love it.

At school, kids often throw away unopened milk cartons.  They're required to take the milk as a part of a "healthy, balanced meal," but it amazes me how many of them eat very little of what is actually on their tray.  I volunteer to take any unopened milk to use at the house, or if I have an abundance, I will take it by the food pantry at church.

The same gleaning principle can be applied to bread.  I have a freezer bag I keep in the freezer with the ends of loaves of bread, cracker crumbs, etc.  When the bag is full, I buzz the whole contents through the food processor to make bread crumbs for a variety of meals (pecan crusted chicken is probably our favorite, but you could top any casserole).  By keeping it in the freezer, it means the bread won't go stale or moldy while I'm waiting to collect enough to do something with.

It always pains me to see people just throw away these remnants, since they can yield such tasty meals.  I know it's from ages gone by, but saving these things isn't a skill that we should lose just because it's convenient to pick up something at the store.  Often, gleaned produce is more nutritious (because it's fresher) and/or organic, which makes me feel better about feeding it to my family.

Gleaning can also go beyond food into the realm of clothing.  I've learned to just ask friends for hand-me-downs for the little guy.  Often, they're more than willing to clean out their closets and unload the "junk" on us.  I've also used this strategy for maternity clothes in the past, which are often worn only a few times.  I have a few friends whom I love their style, both for themselves and their kids, and just being willing to ask means that I have cute clothes for myself and little man.  I don't mind trading some baked goodies or homemade applesauce for clothes, and often this is for a busy mom who really appreciates something homemade and wholesome for her family.

These basic principles really allow us to stretch our food and clothing budgets.  I know there are others in other parts of the country who can glean other foods (I saw on The Prudent Homemaker how she had recently gleaned olives).  Do you ever go gleaning?  If not for yourself, maybe for Second Harvest?  I'd love to hear from you!

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