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The freegan thread  RSS feed

 
John Elliott
pollinator
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I know that the ideal in Permaculture is to run a sustainable operation with no external inputs, but the modern consumer culture is awash in external inputs that it is foolish to turn them down. I started on the road to freeganism by looking for the lowest price feed for my chickens. It started with a peek in the dumpster behind a sub shop, where I scored a trash bag full of sub rolls. Maybe they weren't fresh that day so they had to be thrown out, but my chickens aren't that picky. Bread of any type is worth pecking at.

And that led to salvaging the sliced tomatoes that were also thrown out. Tomatoes are a favorite of chickens. So little by little, the range of discards that I would bring home to the chickens expanded. One time I snagged a heavy black bag -- it was full of clay cat litter and kibble cat food. I can only imagine what caused that "cleanup on aisle 7"! But for me it wasn't trash, it was treasure -- not only was it feed, but it had grit mixed in with it.

Then one day there was a watermelon with a small crack in it. Chickens REALLY like watermelon, so I had to bring it home. And since I only have 3 chickens, I decided that this could be treats for a few days. So as I'm cutting into the watermelon, I observe "there's nothing wrong with this", and I like watermelon too, so I took a bite. There, that did it, now I'm a no-good dumpster diving FREEGAN. Yes, I'll admit to it, I've eaten from someone else's discards.

So what's your story? Are you willing to admit to practicing freeganism? Is it being frugal, or is it descending to the lowest caste of the rag pickers? I get the idea that if modern industrial civilization stumbles, that we all need to live with minimal external inputs, people will wish that they picked rags when the pickings were good.
 
Dan Boone
gardener
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Location: Central Oklahoma (zone 7a)
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Where I grew up this was called "scrounging" and everybody did it. Not so much with food waste or dumpsters, but just in general. My own specialty is finding purposes for roadside trash. So far this year I've grabbed a 55-gallon steel fuel drum (that one was beside a dumpster) and from along the road, several five-gallon plastic buckets (instant plant containers!) and one large food-grade plastic drum full of holes (which I cut into TWO planters). And several large pieces of lumber, plus a couple of pallets.

But I did once meet a hawk that was sitting on a fresh rabbit kill. He saw me and flew off, rabbit was still warm, so we ate the rabbit for dinner. Rural freeganism at its finest!
 
Burra Maluca
Mother Tree
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Location: Portugal
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We call it Wombling...

 
Rick Roman
pollinator
Posts: 442
Location: Pennsylvania Pocono Mt Neutral-Acidic Elv1024ft AYR41in Zone 5b
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Hi John. Great thread. Thanks!

I happen to be member of the NYC Freegan Meetup Club. - http://www.meetup.com/dumpsterdiving-4/

The French film "The Gleaners and I" is an excellent, award winning film on Gleaning and Freeganism.

Short Synopsis - Voted the best documentary of 2001 by the National Society of Film Critics, Agnès Varda's universally acclaimed 'wandering-road documentary' focuses her ever-seeking eye on gleaners: those who scour already-reaped fields for the odd potato or turnip. Her investigation leads us from forgotten corners of the French countryside to off-hours at the green markets of Paris. (Zeitgeist films)

Wikipedia - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Gleaners_and_I

Les Glaneurs et la Glaneuse "The Gleaners and I" By Agnes Varda (2000) 82 minutes French with English subtitles - http://vimeo.com/37089032
 
Jennifer Wadsworth
Posts: 2679
Location: Phoenix, AZ (9b)
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I love freeganism! I have to tell you that I've made thousands with "trash finds" that were later sold to vintage stores or places that specialized in replacement parts for our local historic homes.

Yes - I've eaten food that someone else discarded. Usually this comes from the local CSA - perhaps some of the outside leaves on a head of lettuce are less than perfect, or there is bug damage - pfft - just cut that part off and give to hens (hens - the ultimate urban garbage disposals!)

There is a very endearing story of a homeless man who lives here in Central Phoenix.

One day a friend of mine was between consulting jobs and stopped at a local strip mall to pickup a Subway sandwich. When she exited the Subway restaurant, a homeless man approached her and offered to squeegee her car. The only cash she had left was the change from the sandwich. She expressed that her car was very dirty and she didn't have adequate money to pay him to do this - just take the change. He looked at her poop-encrusted car and asked if she parked under a tree. She answered that yes, she had some free range chickens and they had started perching on a limb over the car at night.

Upon hearing this, the man asked her if she could wait there for a second he had something to show her. He disappeared around the back of the strip mall and minutes later reappeared with his shopping cart. In the front of the cart, on the kid seat, were three hens! He had been letting them feed off the residual scraps behind the various restaurants in the mall.

The man then proceeded to squeegee all her car windows and the hens dutifully followed behind. Several other patrons hired the man and he was provided with a sandwich from subway. Then he loaded up the hens and they moved on to their next foraging place.
 
William Bronson
Posts: 1416
Location: Cincinnati, Ohio,Price Hill 45205
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I started doing this with food after reading "The Art and Science of Dumpster Diving",a book I discovered via The Whole Earth Catalog.
Goods from places that bake fresh daily were my entry point. Delicious cookies and pastries,taste even better with free.
More recently these goods seem to be going strait to food banks.
A lot of produce seems to go to our local commercial composting company Marvin's Organic Gardens.
Compactors are the bane of scroungers, and more common than ever.
Of late I have taken to going to small enterprises and directly asking about their waste streams.
Thus I have a renewing source of free 55 gallon drums from a local car wash, a source of spoiled clay from a semi-retired potter, coffee grounds from a local church, etc.

So keep your eyes open, and ask, you will be surprised how helpful people can be.
 
Alder Burns
pollinator
Posts: 1374
Location: northern California
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I practiced dumpster diving and scrounging much of the time I lived in GA as well. For some years, on two different homesteads, much of my own and my animals' food came to me this way, while I got food production underway on site. I called it a "transitional subsidy", but in actuality I sometimes found the easy pickings pretty addictive. Sweet potatoes and eggs (my on-farm produced staples in those days) can get pretty old, especially when I know there will be a good chance of things like cheese, meat, exotic fruits, and baked goods if I went to town on the right days and times and to the right places! I got it down to a science, knowing where and when were the most productive. I carried a hook on a pole in my car, and boasted that I harvested more food with this than with any other garden tool.
And not just food, but all manner of useful things. Old carpets....I call these the permie equivalent of buffalo hide....it's tough, durable, workable, and you can make a lot of things with it besides pond liner underlayment. I built two cabins and several smaller spaces largely sheathed in carpet. (Stucco it with very wet cement and it will harden into a solid sheet). The two cabins were framed of pine poles, bamboo, lumber and mill scraps, and sheathed in overlapping courses of cardboard, plastic, and stuccoed carpets. When I moved into the first one, I threw a party, and my one-line boast was that I spent more on the housewarming party than I did on the house! Every winter I'd set up a greenhouse attached to the cabin, made of scrounged plastic. Furniture and mattress store dumpsters are the place for huge plastic bags (and huge pieces of cardboard, too). Trimmed into neat squares and rectangles, these can be "candle welded" into any size needed.....
Going on from there....roadkill. At least two deer came my way in this manner, each yielding over 30 jars of canned venison plus whatever we ate fresh plus a lot of scrap for chickens, pets, soldier flies... And what we used to call "hunter scrap"---hunters would often take the backstrap and hind legs, and throw the rest of the deer out beside our dirt road. On cold winter weekends when we'd hear a lot of shooting, we'd make it a point to go out looking early Monday morning. Quite a bit of additional meat came in this way.
As stated above, keeping animals in the system multiplies the yields, since they can eat a lot that people ordinarily won't. Huge bags of popcorn from the movie theater dumpsters were the staple of my poultry, and a treat for my goats, for years.
Unfortunately where I live now, it's mostly a fond memory. Between the large homeless population and the crushers, there aren't many food pickings. Only cardboard and plastic come my way now....
 
John Elliott
pollinator
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Since this is my thread, I am entitled to hijack it, so let's broaden it out to "what am I going to do with all this stuff, now that I have it home?!"

Obtaining items freegan style is not like going grocery shopping with a list. You can't go looking for 1/3rd the calories reduced fat cream cheese. You can, however, score half a dozen day-of-expiration quarts of half-and-half and then make cream cheese at home with it. Here, Stephanie will show you how:



But I will go Stephanie one better and not even use hard-to-find mesophilic starter culture, I'll just get the half-and-half to set with a couple shots of buttermilk.

Dumpsters rarely contain one bell pepper and one onion and one tomato. It's more like a half a case, or a dozen cellophane wrapped packages on their due date. With this bounty, you need to revive the old pioneer spirit of how to preserve in times of plenty so that you will have something in times of need. This preservation can involve drying, salting, pickling, fermenting, and a catch-all that was not at their disposal: throw it in the freezer.

How have you preserved your big scores? I'm still trying to picture Alder with his 30 cans of venison, carefully soldering the lid on each one.
 
Alder Burns
pollinator
Posts: 1374
Location: northern California
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I meant "canning" in jars, with ordinary lids (a rare purchased input) and a big pressure canner (which I frequently used over a campfire. Many many jars came my way from the glass recycling bins. I found out by trial and error that, in spite of any information to the contrary, if a canning lid ring will screw down tight on a jar, that jar can be canned in with no more danger of breakage than a new bona-fide canning jar.
If the jars were vile with glued labels and fouled dried food, I put them into what I called the long soak....submerged in a 55 gallon barrel of rainwater out in the sun, with mosquito fish, water plants, etc, and left for a whole year. Fished out after this long, they would usually easily wipe clean!
So many things came out of dumpsters and into the jars! Milk. Butter, rendered into ghee. Rendered animal fat. Exotic fruit of several types (although the wine vat was a serious competitor to the canner for these!). Among the many memorable meat scores was one from a grocery store going out of business, which had hauled a big construction site dumpster around back....from this I hauled two fifty-pound cases of pork roasts, another two of chicken breasts, and three cases of fish fillets, all still frozen. It took two long days, till late at night, with two canners, to stash it all, and I think I opened the last pint of fish four or five years later!
Animals multiply the yield, as I said above, and homestead alcohol does also. If you are not picky, you can make wine out of almost anything sweet (as prisoners and soldiers know...) Gallons of sweet tea, kool-aid, fruit punch....etc. And if it turns out to be rather vile tasting, send it on to the moonshine still....this separates the alcohol from everything else, and you end up with perfectly good 'shine for whatever purpose (including tincturing medicinal herbs!) And if it spoils in the direction of vinegar, that's pretty useful stuff too. I'm still using some wine vinegar from 1997!
 
John Elliott
pollinator
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I've got a BIG pot of tomato sauce cooking away today. I'll give you one guess as to why.

This gives me a good reason to go out and trim the oregano and the thyme in the garden, too bad I've gotten a late start with the basil this year or I would throw some of that in too. Those peppers that I didn't know what to do with, so I put them in the dehydrator? Well they have come out and are being re-hydrated in the sauce.

I also want to point out that if you really want to live frugally and make stuff last, you need to develop your fermentation chops. I just hate it when milk spoils because it's been sitting in the refrigerator too long. I don't need some interloper bacteria stealing my milk from me. I will, however, peacefully coexist with the Lactobacillus that make yogurt and buttermilk. I have a half gallon of milk in the fridge that is way past its sell date, but it still tastes fine since the first thing I did when I opened it was to put in a shot of buttermilk. If you do that with all the dairy products you bring home from the store (be it from the front door or the alley), you won't ever have stuff going bad, it will just take on a different, but acceptable flavor over time.
 
Angelika Maier
pollinator
Posts: 960
Location: cool climate, Blue Mountains, Australia
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Our soil is such a terrible fill that I am doing raised beds now.
First I lay a generous layer of cardboard. I searched this at the bottle shop, later at the local coop but now I go exclusively to the plumbers supply, these cardboards are huge. Unfortunately I have to buy woodchips, soil and mushroom compost but I pick up a lot of horse poo on a paddock. It is faster than you would think.
The cardboard could be used for mushrooms too.
I pick up these waxy cardboards, because they make the most efficient fire starters ever.
 
John Polk
steward
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Location: Currently in Lake Stevens, WA. Home in Spokane
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Appliance stores are also a good place to find cardboard.
Those stoves and refrigerators come in large boxes.

 
wayne fajkus
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Not a food item but neighborhoods are filled with large paper bags filled with grass clippings, leaves, etc
 
Angelika Maier
pollinator
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Location: cool climate, Blue Mountains, Australia
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The easiest thing is to tell the neighbours and allocate a space were they can chuck these bags (they don't exist here what a pity), grass clippings and other organic stuff.
 
John Saltveit
gardener
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Often when we have a toy or something that is clearly broken, I'll save a part of it that may have a use. My kids know that I save these things in a particular place. I call this part of the tool shed "Industrially useful objects". I just fixed my trailer canopy, which is on the back part of a pickup truck trailer, so that the windows couldn't be opened from the outside. Also, bicycle inner tubes are very useful. I primarily use them for training fruit trees to take a shape that will reduce disease. They go around the branch and the string goes through it so as to not strangle the branch.
John S
PDX OR
 
Mike Feddersen
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Well this thread is too good to have so long been added to so...

When I was a kid there was a man that kept horses at, of all places, the horse kill. An old glue factory. I still remember his name, John Long. Old John probably was able to pasture his horses there for free, they did a great job of keeping the weeds down. John would go to the local fruit and veggie distributor and pick up stuff that was not saleable. Bananas have a very short shelf life, apples, lettuce, etc. The horses loved it, me and a few neighbor kids too.
...............................
Nowadays places are so afraid of getting sued, if you do get it you have to swear it is for animals only. ..........................
I drive truck over the road so I am constantly seeing all kinds of items. Yesterday it was going past a styrofoam wholesaler, there in the yard was a huge 30 foot dumpster brimming with large see-through pink bags of damaged chunks of styrofoam. My mind wondered how it could be used? .......

....
My dad had gravel trucks, one of his drivers lived in a small three level school house with a big boiler that used three foot sectiond of old railroad ties. I see thousands of these railroad ties weekly. .................
When I lived in Phoenix, AZ I would take old stuff from the garage to Goodwill and the Salvation Army. There was always gobs of windows and building materials, contractors taking advantage of tax break and not having to pay dump fees. .......................
That ^ reminded me of a business opportunity I saw once. You contact local businesses and see if they have any product they want to get rid of. If you can't get it for free, try getting them to an agreed upon buying price, then use craigslist or backpage, etc. to sell for a profit. I read in a Success magazine once of a chemical broker that found out Dupont was needing some x chemical, they located the chemical and brokered a handsome deal worth 1.5 million. The company that had the chemical turned out to be a subsidiary of Dupont. On a small scale of that... I sold 6 loads of 3/4 inch limestone to a manufacturer. The rock was leftover at the end of a concrete road project I hauled into. I made 720 dollars in a couple hours, then some busybody that wanted their share pointed out that any material left at the end of the job belonged to the owner of the land. Same guy who loved getting the loads so cheap.
 
Mike Feddersen
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A guy I knew from where I parked my semi in Arizona collected cars and parts of cars that he hauled back to the Finger Lake area of New York. I always wanted to take pictures of vehicles in different areas and send to him. Sort of a 'heads up/ head hunter deal', maybe get a finders fee but I never did. It would be great to do something similar here, not that I would charge but maybe do a "Hey everybody near..., this guy has..." kind of a public service thing.
(Watch me now never see another deal...) seriously I think it is just like the guy above who said, "You gotta ask."

This is seasonal but I bet if you did some asking to large road side veggie sellers you could pick up a ton of stuff for a song or less.

My brother in law in Phoenix would go to estate sales in Sun City and show up near the end and offer to clean out what was left for near zero or actally charge to haul it away.

 
Mike Feddersen
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I picked up a semi trailer at a Home Depot store one day. When I pulled the trailer from the loading dock I heard a small crashing noise. At the back of the trailer lay one of those triangle sort of heart shaped spa tubs. I thought my goose was cooked. The manager came out, "No problem, it really doesn't matter... These are the old displays headed for the landfill". And he went on to tell of the gobs and gobs of items that were delivered to the same place. (You would think all this stuff would get donated to Habitat for Humanity or something.) Probably like the product at the supermarket, days are numbered and pitching unsold is cheaper than shipping it back.

My brother in law picked up a load of phone cords once in Phoenix, wrong color. A semi trailer full of cords to the landfill.
When I worked hauling trash to the landfill, the maker of Ping golf clubs would bring trailer loads of 'seconds' to watch them bury these. (Don't dilute the market with factory blems...)
 
Joshua Myrvaagnes
pollinator
Posts: 563
Location: Massachusetts, 6b, urban, nearish coast, 39'x60' minus the house, mostly shady north side, + lead.
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There's a play about freeganism (sort of) at the ART, one of Boston's major theatres. It's by Eve Ensler, who created the Vagina Monologues, a world-wide production of monologues about women's perspectives.

The new play, Obsessive Political Correctness, shows the conflict between a younger radical and her liberal mother who is running for a senate seat.

My review of it--it's not that well written, but it's such an important thing to put on stage or screen at this time that it can't help but being heartbreaking. I shed a lot of tears. I guess the hearts of the characters were true, even if the issues weren't.

Permaculture wasn't anywhere on the stage. THe idea that we can make a better world and even live in luxury without avoiding reality was pretty much absent.

Another interesting point was that it as astonishing to me how few in the audience had heard of freeganism or really understood where their food really comes from. (there was a "talk-back" after the production I saw.)

My housemate who is a dumpster diver and permie was speaking at hte talk-back. She'd been consulted for the show, and although she politely didn't say so at the performance, she saw that they'd really not listned to a lot of her feedback. She is one of the major operators of the Gleaner's Kitchen in Boston, which serves dumpstered food and creates community and connection to the Earth (my words--not sure how she'd describe it, you can google it).

I think Eve Ensler is smart and cares enough to get it, and I kind of had this thought, wouldn't it be great if a bunch of permaculturists would flood her with messages saying "we're here, we have solutions, there's more to understand about this situation." The ways that the two generations could work together and could possibly make it would be so important to see, or to create (a la Theatre of the Oppressed, interactive theatre of Augusto Boal) on stage.

 
Dale Hodgins
garden master
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Charles Dickens created  characters that could be seen to be freegans.

The first freegans mentioned in literature are probably Ruth and her mother-in-law Naomi from the old testament book of Ruth.

They were gleaners. It was a social and religious requirement that wealthy landowners allow the poor to glean after their workers had harvested  the usable grains and fruit.
http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gleaning
 
Asher Gray
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Location: Floyd, VA
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Here's a good movie that was on Netflix, probably still is. It taught me a useful skill whether dumpster diving or not; that if an egg sinks in water it's still good, if one end sticks up it's good for baking, and if the whole thing floats it's no good. http://www.divethefilm.com/trailer.aspx
 
Mike Feddersen
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Joshua, your post reminded me of this Star Trek:Next Generation show, "The Inner Light".
http://ekostories.com/2012/07/08/star-trek-inner-light/ This person does a great article on this episode, it ties permaculture, tree planting and HOPE for future generations all together.
 
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