FREE FOOD!!! 11 Ways

Purslane & Pansy
Edible “Weed” & Edible Flower

Throughout last week the Grand Rapids Press and The Rapidian ran the story Hunger Challenge chronicling two ambitious young writers, Jacqueline Prins and Samantha Dine, who agreed to eat for a week on a budget of $30.59 each. This is approximately “what a person on food stamps would have to spend” per week. Whoa, talk about an eye opener!

As the week progressed however, I noticed an alarming pattern, little to no fresh fruits and vegetables. I had this incredible urge, when looking at their meal photos, to pick up what ever they made, lay it on a bed of greens then sprinkle herbs, flowers and sprouts on top. Where was the color, the vitamins, the dense nutrition? Where were the plants?

Too expensive, I suspect. Time to think “outside” the grocery store.

I contacted my friend Anja Mast the co-owner of Trillium Haven Farm, a local certified organic vegetable and herb farm that sells their produce at the Fulton Street Farmers Market. I thought she mentioned at some point that they accepted food stamps. After talking with her and Melissa Herrington, spokesperson for the Fulton Street Farmers Market, I found some great news!

Not only can a person use his/hers SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) Bridge Card at ANY farmer’s market in Michigan, but the amount of money that he/she spends is matched with Double Up Food Bucks bonus tokens. That’s doubling your food dollar! That’s FREE FOOD!!

After this my head was spinning with FREE FOOD and almost FREE FOOD ideas. Whether our food budgets are subsidized by SNAP or not, in this economy most of us are looking to stretch our food dollar. Following are a few creative ideas on how to get some fresh plants on your plate at little to no cost.

Free (& Almost Free) Food

Strawberries are an invasive ground cover so a few plants will go a long way.

1.) Check out Craigslist-For Sale-Free: In the last six months I’ve seen the following listed; free dill, free strawberry plants, free raspberry plants, free blueberry bushes and free assorted herb plants! ALL FREE!!! Plus, because they are perennials all of the above will keep delivering year after year!

Garlic is easy to plant, easy to harvest and easy to store.

2.) Garlic: One clove goes in, and a whole head comes out! Then, save some of your harvest to plant for the next year’s crop. In a few years you’ll have a constant supply with out having to purchase anything!

One kind neighbor let my kids and me harvest all of these
concord grapes for Kids Food Basket.
This was a fraction of what her ONE VINE had to offer.
She wanted the grapes gone so the raccoons would leave her house alone
and she could get a good night’s sleep.
Put the word out…Will Work For Food, literally!
3.) Neighborhood Fruit: People with mature apple or pear trees (and grape vines) generally not only want to give away their fruit but often their WHOLE TREE. They are a bit messy and in dropping their fruit all sorts of critters come to dine. So, help a neighbor out and harvest some of their fruit for them (asking first of course). Maybe return the favor with an apple pie, pear sauce or something that you grew in your garden. 

From one potato plant, our family of five had enough for two dinners.

4.) Potatoes: One eye of a potato goes in, all of the above can come out! That’s a pretty nice return on investment. (Wish I could earn the same rate of return with our financial investments.) Again, keeping some of your harvest for next year’s crop.

Purslane, the “cosmopolitan weed”, thrives in warm dry conditions. This plant landed in my garden as a free gift from Mother Nature. It’s been harvested many times as a crunchy addition to salads and as an edible garnish (as seen in top photo). 

5. Edible “Weeds”: Stop tossing out the”weeds” in your garden and start eating them! Get to know the edible “weeds” in your area. They are free food delivered directly to your yard. Educate yourself and eat for free! For example, all parts of a dandelion are edible and the leaves are one of those bitter greens that doctors tell us to eat because they are loaded with vitamin A, and C, calcium and Iron. Ounce-for-ounce dandelion greens are richer in calcium than milk!

The whole Trout Lily plant is edible right down to the bulb. I’ve been nurturing these little free lovelies along in my yard for years while eating a few along the way. The spotted leaves are a beautiful addition to any salad.

6. Edible Wildflowers: Get to know your local wildflowers. Learn what is edible and what is not! Harvest only in your own yard and minimally to preserve struggling species.

Daylily Field at New Every Morning Daylily Gardens in Byron Center, MI

7. Daylilies: No excuses here for not having color on your plate! Daylilies are everywhere and all parts are edible. Just don’t harvest near a road (due to winter chemicals and exhaust) or in areas where lawn chemicals are being used. Think of a daylily as a perennial vegetable! This is one plant that friends are always willing to divide and share. I see them listed for free frequently on Craigslist too.

Fresh Herb &  Edible Flower Arrangement
Yes, Zinnias are edible!

8. Herbs: Grow your own herbs from divisions. If a friend or neighbor has chives, oregano or anything from the mint family growing in their garden they will have plenty to share with you as these plants are prolific growers. And, most common herbs are perennial so they will keep giving back to you year after year. Harvest herbs at the end of the season and hang them to dry for use in the kitchen all winter. 

Kale Arrangement
Each seed pod contains approximately 30 seeds!
I think I could feed all of Grand Rapids kale for a whole year.
Green Smoothies and Green Soup for ALL!

9. Save Seeds: It’s so easy to simply take the time to harvest your own seeds for next season’s crop. Dry them out, put them in a sealed container, label them and keep them in a cool, dark place. You can get beautiful floral arrangements AND eat for free forever more!

Sprouts go in EVERYTHING!
Seeds+Water= Sprouts

10.) Sprouts: Sprouts are EXTREMELY easy to make right in your own kitchen and no dirt required! Three tablespoons of seeds can make approximately a quart of sprouts. Use (alfalfa, broccoli, mustard, clover, onion, lentil, mung, radish and soybeans) seeds to make the most nutritionally dense, per calorie, food on the planet. Sprouts can contain as much as 35% protein and are loaded with bioavailable energy in the form of enzymes. They are perfect for the “patience-challenged” gardener, seed to salad in ONE WEEK! Sprouts are economical and worth every penny. Sprouts can go in and with EVERYTHING. Want energy? Try a sprout salad!!!

Thank you to The Grand Rapids Press and The Rapidian for shedding light on hunger right here in our city. Thank you to Jacqueline and Samantha for feeling that hunger and sharing it with us.

For all of the Jacquelines and Samanthas out there eating on $4.37 per day, hope this helps!

*Common Sense Caution: Please do your homework on any of the above suggestions and know exactly what you are eating, which parts of the plant are edible and where it was grown.


  1. The Shade Shop, Inc.

    September 16, 2011

    Simply yummy suggestions!!! (I shouldn’t read this at lunch) I did not realize so many wildflowers were edible! I planted rosemary and thyme in my flower boxes at the store this year and am wondering how to dry them to use through the winter instead of just clearing them out to make way for Christmas boughs. Any suggestions?????

  2. Margaux Drake

    October 2, 2011

    Overwinter the rosemary indoors for replanting next year and if you can heel the thyme into the ground somewhere, it can be replanted next year too. If this is not an option for you harvest and dehydrate or hang in a warm, dry place until throughly dry. Store in a clean, dry container. Let me know how it goes!