Having Vegetables When You Can’t Grow Your Own

Vegetable Basket

Written by Stacy Myers, Guest Writer

I’m a country girl, born and raised on a farm in Virginia. My parents are excellent at growing a garden. I never remember a summer without having something to preserve, even if it was a “bad year.” I’ll admit I took it for granted. I grew up and got married and discovered something. My parents did not pass their growing gene on to their oldest daughter.

I have what my husband commonly refers to as The Black Thumb of Death. If I touch it, it dies. The only things I grow successfully are mold and children…but not moldy children. We’ve tried to grow tomatoes and other various vegetables in little containers on our deck. I’ve even tried growing “hardy” herbs. I’ve found out very quickly that the only thing I can grow is a hosta plant – and I’m not sure I could eat that.

What’s a Girl To Do?

Last year, we had the year of the $2.50 tomatoes. I purchased a HARDY tomato plant from the Farmer’s Market for $5. We got two tomatoes. Expensive plant.

So, I’ve found very quickly that there are lots of other people out there in my shoes. Either they can’t grow things or they live somewhere that doesn’t allow them the luxury. But, fear not! We can still have our vegetables and eat them too…we just have to be a bit more creative.

Here are 5 options for having fresh-grown vegetables without having to pray daily over your withering tomato plant. Amen.

Having Vegetables When You Can’t Grow Your Own

Image by Celesteh

5 Ways to Get Fresh Produce Without Having a Garden

1. Trade or Mooch

Bartering is a great way to stay in budget and still get awesome veggies! Maybe you have a best friend who just loves to grow things. Isn’t there something you could do for her in return for some produce? Maybe she needs babysitting. Maybe she needs her car washed. Something, anything.

My husband has, in the past, kept up friends’ gardens while they were on vacation. While he was doing that, he got to bring home anything that was ready to be picked. Score!

Mooching is my favorite way to get vegetables. Put the word out that you’re a lousy gardener – church is an excellent place to do this. Put on a sad face…maybe even cry a little bit. I guarantee you’ll be given baskets of veggies in no time. This works the best on my parents. They know I’m pathetic, so they give me produce. In turn, I help my mom with the canning each year.

2. Visit the Farmer’s Market.

We’re very lucky that fresh produce seems to the popular thing to do right now. Everyone is “going green” and Farmer’s Markets are popping up all over the place. When I was little, it wasn’t like this at all. But since I’ve grown up and got married, we have a local Farmer’s Market in every town close by. Nice!

This is a really great option because you get to support the local economy – and shopping at the Farmer’s Market usually won’t break your budget. I’ve also found that this gives me the option of trying new and different veggies. Not sure you like purple potatoes? Buy a few and try them! Lots of fun. (By the way, purple potatoes ROCK.)

3. Visit road-side stands.

Okay, I realize this one might stretch it a little bit…and perhaps this just comes from my neck of the woods – but we have little roadside stands that pop up anywhere and everywhere. Pop has some extra strawberries, so he loads them up in his truck and runs down to the local Chevron to sell them. Bingo. Great prices, fresh, and local.

I also realize this might induce the heebie jeebies in some of you. Why on earth would you buy strawberries from Pop You Don’t Know? Excellent question. Here’s my answer: Why on earth would you buy strawberries from Grocery Chain Who Gets Them from Who Knows Where?

NOTE: Do not buy produce from someone selling in van, unless you desired to get yanked in and kidnapped. This has been a public service announcement.

Produce Market

Image by Patrick Feller

4. Support Your Local Produce Market.

My family has always owned a local produce stand. It’s about 2 minutes from my parent’s house and it was started by my Uncle Harold. Now he’s gone and his son runs the business. I love running down there and getting fresh produce. And talk about service! Local places like this usually over the best customer service.

Maybe you also have the same option close by. This produce is almost always grown locally – which gives me great relief. I have this thing – I don’t like buying produce from foreign countries. Call me nutso…but I just don’t.

NOTE: Local produce will not always be sold as “organic” even though some of it meets the requirements. The government requires STRICT standards and tons of paperwork to get that label. Government smoverment.

5. Join a Local CSA.

What is a CSA? It stands for Community Supported Agriculture. Basically, when you join a CSA, you pay a fee for the year (or half year) and you get a box of produce from a local farm. The produce you receive is what’s in season at the time. You don’t get to choose, it just comes. This can be good, or this can be bad…if you hate turnips, you probably don’t want a box full. But, it does give you a great opportunity to try new things.

Here in Virginia and Tennessee we have a great resource for finding things like this – LocalGoods.org. I’m sure you have something like that around as well – Google is your best friend when trying to find a local CSA.

I do have plans to eventually try my hand at gardening again, but probably not until next summer. With our new debt free house purchase, and a new baby on the way we’re a little busy at the moment. However, I do have plans to try my hand at Box Gardening. And even if I kill everything in it, it will be an excellent place for my children to play in the dirt.

How do you find local produce?

Top image by Ecokarenlee

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  1. I just want to say that purple potatoes rock because they come from Peru and Peru rocks. 😉 viva Peru. Quinoa also comes from Peru. 😉

  2. Thanks for sharing these great tips, Stacy! We do have 3 box gardens that we keep on my parents’ land, but I say I pretty much have a Black Thumb as well. If it weren’t for my husband, it would all be dead! LOL! This year, we tried to stick with what we’ve had the best “luck” with in past years: peppers, tomatoes and squash/zucchini. We’re getting the rest of our veggies elsewhere.

    We also forage for blackberries in my parents’ pasture and at a local park!

    Great post–as always!

    1. I love the thought of foraging. Here in Modesto, CA there are public parks that are overgrown with wild blackberries! Sadly, the last time I picked berries in a friend’s property I saw little worms on them after I took them home to eat. My heart was broken! I still kept the berries and cooked them to make jelly (strained them VERY WELL)…Is that a normal problem with wild berries?

      1. I have seen an occasional worm on the blackberries we pick–but really maybe just one/year? I think it’s still worth it! Haha–but I so let out a scream if I ever see one!

    2. Hi!

      I was actually just hoping to find out which local parks you go to to pick the wild blackberries? I haven’t lived in Modesto for very long, so it’s been difficult for me to find them!

  3. I’m so blessed to be able to have a garden in my suburban backyard. What I can’t/haven’t grown there I can often get at the wonderful produce stand just three blocks from my house. I’ve noticed that produce is on my grocery list a lot less since summer started!

  4. I definitely agree about buying from “Mom and Pop” stands on the side of the road. There are plenty of these that pop up where I live from about June-September, and I buy from them frequently. It’s a great way to support local growers, the prices are usually very reasonable, and the produce itself is so fresh (often picked that morning).

    Where I am (southwest BC), we buy most of our summer tree fruit and berries this way (unless we get it straight from the farm), as well as corn on the cob, cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers and more. I’m always thrilled when I see a new stand pop up!

    But I’ll keep in mind your tip about buying from vans. 🙂

  5. I had a huge garden last year and loved it. However, we’ve since moved north and into a tiny apartment. So, since I can’t garden, I joined a CSA and for my most favorite summer veggies (tomatoes and summer squash), I did a container garden. I haven’t gotten any produce from the container garden yet, but its looking promising! And I love the fact that the CSA share is making all of us try new food. Last week it was baby turnips (they are good!) and this week its going to be kohlrabi and beets. (Don’t worry. We got other things in our box besides those. Those were just the veggies I hadn’t tried before.)

  6. Great ideas! Oh boy, do I hope I can actually get my garden to produce some food so I can mooch off of friends for services in exchange for homegrown veggies! I am in sore need of those services. I’m either going to use it in reverse if I can figure this growing thing out or follow your lead. Thanks for sharing either way. 😉

  7. I got a working CSA this year and I love it. I work for a few hours every week in return for my share of veggies.

  8. I thought I was the only person in America with that black thumb–literally. I also used to say that the only thing I can grow is children, and they grew wild, thankfully they are taming down some now!
    Just started this vegetable and fruit journey this year and so far it’s fine. But, I do want to try to grow stuff (again) and am now researching to see what the hardest things to kill off and how to get started.
    I enjoyed your writing style and your post. Thank you!

  9. Love this! I’m still trying to figure out where to put my garden….cant seem to find a good amount of sun in my yard….we’re hitting up the farmers market this weekend but I never thought of trading babysitting or something for veggies! I’m off to post a trade add on my church’s social network site right now!!

  10. I actually killed my hostas this past year… so yeah, not so great in the growing-green-things department. Fortunately, my hubby is significantly more gifted with gardening skills!

  11. I LOVE visiting our local farmer’s market (Edmond, OK)! In the summer, I make our weekly meal plan around what I pick up at the market. Even when we do our own garden (couldn’t this year b/c of a move) I still visit the farmer’s market to fill the gaps (peaches, corn, etc).

  12. My thumb is awfully black, too! I follow most of your suggestions (although we don’t have many mom-and-pop produce stands around here, only one I can think of) throughout the growing season, as well as pick-your-own farms. But I am trying (once again!) to grow some on my garden, and so far I’ve harvested a jalapeno pepper and a bunch of herbs 🙂 But I have more peppers and some tomatoes growing, so I’m hopeful for a good harvest!

  13. Also devlope a relationship with someone who does grow things well! I grow stuff(mostly root crops), but I bake & sew. I trade for stuff. Like today 2 bushels of pole beans for 6 loaves of wheat bread. or 2 pie pans of cinnamon rolls for 5 pounds of blueberries. Last week I took up 5 pairs of pants in trade for 2 gallons raw milk!

    Never fear, there is always something you can do that someone else can’t. Likewise there is always something someone else can do that you can’t.

  14. CSA’s are great, especially organic ones, not only do you get amazing produce but you get to meet amazing people and form relationships that last a lot longer than the vegetables 🙂

  15. I am in the same unfortunate club. I somehow have managed to kill $18 worth of herbs and have one tomato plant that I refer to as the tomato plant of shame. Poor thing. It is having a lingering death and I feel horrible. I have no idea what I did wrong but I did and have the ugly proof to show for it! If you don’t believe me I can send the morbid picture but trust me, you don’t want to see it.

  16. Up until 7 years ago, I lived in CA – 47 years years. I now miss the citrus trees loaded with fruit and yes, I took it for granted. But I never grew anything; and didn’t know anyone who did. With produce so plentiful and so cheap – including organic – I never even thought about it.
    Then I moved to The South 7 years ago. Most everyone has a garden and ‘puts up’ their bounty. I became absolutely enchanted! And most everyone knows how to can and do all sorts of amazing things! So, I had to learn to grow something. Anything! Luckily, I found the book, “The All New Square Foot Gardening” by Mel Bartholomew and read it cover to cover. A wonderful book – not only for the easiest, most SUCCESSFUL way to garden; but also how one man had a vision and blessed so many people – INTERNATIONALLY. What a mission! http://www.amazon.com/All-New-Square-Foot-Gardening/dp/1591862027/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1341271267&sr=1-1&keywords=mel+bartholomew
    My little 3 foot garden has kept me supplied of kale, swiss chard and arugula; and in pots I have grown herbs, tomatoes, and jalapenos.

    I also belong to a Co-op (remember, Stacy, when I mentioned getting the best almonds?); and I also belong to a CSA. I don’t get to go to the Farmer’s Market as I don’t like driving, but there are a few mini-stands here locally that I visit.
    Also, a friend grows some things and shares with me while I make her my ‘famous’ muffins and bring some kale chips! So, we trade! Works for me!

    When it comes to good, organic produce, I’ll find a way to have my veggies and eat ’em, too! LOL

  17. I found localharvest.org through Good Cheap Eats and signed up for a CSA. It has been an interesting experience. I chose an organic farm and the cost came down to about $30 per week for a 1 1/4 bushel box of organic produce. Much cheaper than I can get that much produce at the local grocery store. We are getting to try things we have never tried before like Kale, turnips, swiss chard. My children (and husband) aren’t always happy to see the new veggies on their plates. But it is fun discovering what we do and do not like. My husband has recently declared that peas are no longer his least favorite veggie. The honor now goes to beets which our 7 year old and I love. 🙂 Today my goal is to make Kale chips, blue potato salad, and a small batch of picked beets to use up some of our produce before I pick up my next box.

  18. We have had great success getting lots of veggies from Amish food auctions. There are two 2 1/2 hrs away from us in two different directions. Great fresh food, GREAT prices and LOTS of it that require sharing or canning or a bit of both 🙂

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