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To gather grain or other material that is left after the main crop has been gathered

Merriam-Webster.com

A lot of people ask me for practical advice on saving for long trips and they often zero in on trimming food budgets.  With the Canadian dollar trading at less than 70 cents American and with the drought in California and Mexico, the price of groceries has gone through the roof here.  The NY Times recently ran an article on Canada’s $8 cauliflower on its front page.

groceries

My food budget for the past year has been $500 Cdn/month to feed the 6-8 people who live here.  This is a ridiculously low amount.  Fabhio is a chef and he regularly adds $100-$200 to the monthly budget.  Technically, this counts as extra grocery money but I like to think of it as entertainment/hobby money.  He’s on a hard work rotation these days: 20 days straight of 12 hour shifts, then 10 days off.  On his time off, he likes to shop and cook.  I also spend a few hundred dollars a year on meat from my friend’s organic farm.  So I would say that < $800 month is an accurate global amount for our food spending.  I spend roughly $80/week in a local grocery store and about $180/month at Costco ($320 + $180 = $500).  Every few months I reduce the grocery store and Costco amounts and stock up at the health food store (almond butter, cocoa nibs, coconut oil etc).

I have blogged about extreme food budgeting before but it seems a good time to re-examine the issue.  Most people try to save money on groceries by using coupons and buying things on sale.  It’s not a bad idea, per se, but the 20¢ you save on celery isn’t going to get you to Paris anytime soon.   Coupons and sales are offered by the stores and manufacturers because those techniques work for them.  It’s their way of roping you into buying things that aren’t on your list.  You want the system to work for you.  I almost never use coupons and only buy sale items that I would buy anyways and only if they are considerably marked down.  Stay tuned for an upcoming blog post on The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Grocery Cheapskates.  For today, we’ll focus on gleaning.

My evolution has proceeded thusly: suburban kid, urban gardener, urban forager, urban gleaner.

Fahbio and I converted our postage stamp-sized front and back lawns into edible landscapes years ago.  And we tried to garden (did I mention that I hate squirrels?).   I still forage a lot in the summer.  Frankly the biggest bang for the buck lies in gleaning.  Gleaning refers to food crops but once you get the beauty of the concept, you’ll apply it to many areas.

raspberries

If you have gardened or foraged, you know how much work that is.  With gleaning, someone else is doing the work for you.

I’ve come to the conclusion that the world is divided into two groups of people – those with too much time and those with not enough time.  So far, I have fallen squarely in the latter group.  But there are many people, good people, looking for something meaningful to do.  They may be altruistic people or they may not.  Regardless, if you are kind and personable and not taking anything from them that they themselves desire, they will give to you.  We all know the stereotype of the dude trying to unload bushels of zucchini at the office but gleaning goes way beyond that.

To make gleaning work, you need to open your eyes, be a nice person, and gently nudge the issue.  Gleaning should be an equal transaction.  It may not seem that way to you but it also won’t seem that way to the gleanee.  They grew veg for their own pleasure and now they have way too much and need to get rid of it in a way that honours all the effort they put in.  You have your charming disposition, maybe a gaggle of adorable kids, value-added products like jams and jellies (although most people don’t want these).  Those with too much time on their hands generally have $ to buy fancy jams and jellies.  What they really want is your genuine interest/concern/friendship/admiration.

sled of fruit

Concord grapes and Mirabelle plums on a toboggan – all gleaned

By “nudge the issue”, I mean that once you have a sound relationship, nicely ask if you can have the leftovers.  I am in no way advocating using people.  You should give to them that which is excessive in you, that which you ignore and overlook because you have it in such abundance.  After all that is what you seek from them.  Be neutral in your request and don’t take rejection personally.  Just keep on being nice to them.  Maybe shovel their walkway.

In practicality, how does this work?  You walk around your neighbourhood and observe who is actively growing what, who has stuff growing by benign neglect and who just seems cool and funky.  You establish relationships with all of them.  Soon enough, you get free actively grown stuff, invitations to remove benignly grown stuff and weird connections to other free stuff via the cool and funky lot.

I live in an urban area and when I moved in, I would have sworn there was nothing to glean from these tiny front gardens.  I would have been wrong because neighbours have fruit trees and grape vines they don’t harvest.  Also herbs and hot peppers and tomatoes and other stuff.  In our family, we are constantly searching for food to feed 7 or 8 people.  Smaller households are often looking for ways to use up food.

How does gleaning crossover into other aspects of life?  Our lives seem to be a perpetual search for clothes/boots/ski equipment for growing kids.  Many other people have one or two kids and enough income that they don’t want to bother with reselling used stuff.  Each time they get rid of something significant, they feel a pang that their child/ren are growing up.  More than anything they want the items to go to a loving home (see gardening, above).  You are that loving home.  That is the equal transaction of which I speak – they give you high quality free stuff and you cherish it and pass it on to another family.

18 arrondissement3

But how to find these wealthy and generous souls?  Spoiler alert – they don’t have to be wealthy or generous.  You boldly announce, a few times to various friend groups, that you have decided to no longer buy any …. (clothes, ski equipment, cars, tools, tupperware, food, whatever).  Elaborate and say that times are tough or just leave it at that.  Most North Americans cannot stand to see people not getting stuff.  Ergo stuff will come to you.  Lots and lots of stuff. Your duty is to sincerely and gratefully accept it all, sort through it, glean what you will and bring the rest to Goodwill.

It is a general misconception that “gleaned goods” are sub-par.  I am here to say that that is categorically untrue.  People are donating items with price tags still attached.  More importantly to me, people are donating cherished items hoping that someone will appreciate them.  Will you be that person?  Will you wear that hand-knit hat and love it?

I have mostly been on the receiving end but I have also been on the donating end.  I spent a lot of money on fancy cloth diapers for Lastborn.  Really fancy diapers.  I didn’t want money for them but I wanted them to go to someone who would appreciate them.  Someone who had lusted after them as I had.  Yes, pregnant women lust after fancy cloth diapers.

In summary, with a few exceptions we haven’t bought any clothes in a few years and the quantity and quality of clothes coming through our door every month is 10 fold what I would have bought and I’m a former fashionista.

eiffel9

Will this work with any items – canoes, model railways, snow shoes, antique pine furniture, shrunken heads?  Yes, it will.  Because your community is 1/2 full of people with too much time and stuff on their hands. Maybe 90% full depending on your community (crocheting, fly fishing, golfing, needlepoint).  Do your part willingly and they will do theirs in the same manner.  Might be a nice gesture to send them a postcard from Paris to show your appreciation.