How to Save Money on Groceries with Free Produce Trimmings

Supermarkets discard produce that can still be used, if you ask for it.
By Mae Hildred
September/October 1983
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Supermarket produce trimmings can often be had free for the asking.

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Believe it or not, in the produce section at most grocery stores—hidden somewhere behind the $2.00 (a pound) broccoli and the 89¢ (apiece!) kiwi fruit—there's a veritable treasure trove of free-for-the-taking, nearly fresh vegetables and fruits. I'm referring, of course, to the boxes upon boxes of trimmings (consisting of discarded produce and bits of produce) that are regularly thrown out, unless some thrifty person like yourself gets hold of them first!

Oh sure, the crates are partially full of limp lettuce and other fare that might be fit only for livestock consumption, but you're also likely to find some people-pleasing tidbits (such as ripe tomatoes, barely browned mushrooms, and slightly-less-than-crisp celery). You see, most markets try to maintain a reputation for the freshness and quality of their goods. Therefore, any frost-bitten artichoke, sprouting onion, or rubbery bunch of asparagus that might damage that reputation is usually tossed out. And a lot of this discarded merchandise is of fine culinary quality, in fact, in many cases it'll "eat" better than the cosmetically superior specimens on the shelf! (Furthermore, the produce that can't be served to your family can still be thrown to the chickens or pigs to help cut down on feed bills.)

Getting Produce for Free

Most of the time, supermarket fruit and vegetable trimmings can be had free for the asking. Just find out when your greengrocer does his or her "weeding," and appear at the store (with containers ready to take home any available booty) at that hour.

A word of advice, though: When asking for trimmings, it's a good idea not to mention that you want them for your family's supper. Many grocers suspect (and perhaps with good reason) that there must be some sort of official regulation forbidding the use of such discards for human consumption. However, if you explain that you've got a lot of hungry backyard animals at home, you'll probably be given whatever trimmings are on hand.

What to Do with Your Harvest

We usually rinse off and use most of our finds as soon as possible after collecting them. And when we haul in an entire box load of one specific prize, we go on a canning spree! Right now, my cupboard is stocked with a dozen jars of pickles made from cucumbers just barely past their prime, plus several quarts of crisp-canned (blanched and spooned in) onions and green peppers.

Then again, if we salvage, say, half a crate of a single fruit or vegetable (which is more than we can eat fresh, but isn't enough to can), we offer our surplus to friends and neighbors. At first, we thought folks might be a bit hesitant to accept our gleanings, but we've found that most people welcome the free edibles.

Questions about Produce Department "Trimmings"

Nongleaners frequently ask me two questions:

  1. Do you and your kin really eat this stuff?
  2. If trimmings are so terrific, how come everybody isn't beating a path to the back room of the local store's produce department?

Well, my unqualified response to the first query is this: You can bet your buttered parsnips we do!

And, in reply to the second, all I can honestly say is that I'm not really sure why more folks don't take advantage of this source of free goodies. I suppose some people find the thought of eating produce trimmings less than appetizing, but I find the idea of good food going to waste—in a world where uncounted numbers go hungry—to be downright disgusting!

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8/5/2009 9:02:40 PM
Down home, I've got 5 choices: Harp's, Aldi, WalMart, the produce stand, and the farmers' market. I know how to work the produce stand and the farmers' market. I'm all over that stuff from April to October. The other four months out of the year, I'm afraid to try the gleaning approach with the big boys. Has anyone made this work with a big chain supermarket??? OK, since I never heard of it before I moved to NWAR, Harps probably isn't that big, but it's still intimidating to me. Who do you ask, what do you say, how do you go about it????

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