“Riddle me this, Mom.” The challenge came from 10 year old Sadie, seated behind me in the first row of our van. “Are we herbivores, or are we carnivores?”
The answer required no thought. “Omnivores, honey. We eat both plants and meat.”
Sadie laughed delightedly, knowing she had me bested. “WRONG!” She crowed. “We’re not just omnivores- we’re scavengers!”
My eyebrows went up, pondering a little as I drove down the two-lane country highway that connects our stretch of farmland with the rest of civilization.
“I think ‘foragers’ is more accurate,” I responded. “We don’t eat roadkill, or dead rotting things.”
Sadie laughed again. “‘Scavengers’ sounds better. Kinda fierce, and determined. We are pretty fierce with this stuff.”
We are indeed. That morning, in fact, we were on our way to a farm 20 minutes east of us to do just that- scavenge, forage, or what have you. We’d gotten a text the night before from a good friend. She knew a farmer who had just had to dump an entire truckload of freshly-picked green beans, and was spreading the word that they were free for the taking. We’d loaded up our van with bushel baskets, milking pails, canvas bags and handfuls of plastic grocery sacks. Eivin grabbed his beloved plastic beach pail and we’d set off.
It took a little scout work, but we spotted several big piles of something green in the corner of a field close to the intersection we’d been directed to. I pulled over (which can get interesting in our enormous van) and went to investigate- sure enough, it was an massive load of green beans.
We were the only ones there. I texted our friend just to double-check that we had permission to pillage the bean-mountain, she confirmed that we did. The kids ran ahead of me through the brush, buckets and bags in hand, and laughed out loud at the sight of so many green beans piled up like grass clippings.
After a quick primer on which beans were keepers, we started filling bags. Eivin was thrilled to drop handfuls of beans, stems, leaves and dirt into his bucket before gleefully dumping it all back out. Sadie and Ivy worked like bosses, filling bag after bag. Rikur and Alarik did half a bucket each before abandoning the task in favor of climbing a nearby dirt pile.
More people started showing up with trash bags and plastic totes in hand. The farmer drove back and forth in his tractor to disc up the adjacent field for replanting. The gathered group waved, yelled “thank you” and received smiles and thumbs-up in return. A mother working on the same hill addressed the crowd of children talking and throwing bean stems at each other, hers and mine combined. She pointed out that this windfall was a blessing for us, but a big loss for the farmer. They should be grateful for his kindness and eat every bean that ended up on their plates. My kids nodded enthusiastically; they love green beans. The other mother’s youngest stuck out her tongue in disgust while both mamas laughed.
It took 3 hours to fill everything we had brought with us. After lugging all of it to our van and loading up 5 grubby, sweaty kids, we headed towards home. A brief stop at Wendy’s for some well-earned Frostys was in order.
We set up an assembly line of sorts at our kitchen table. The boys disappeared to go play but the girls wanted to help. We sorted, trimmed and washed beans at a steady pace but barely made a dent in the mass of bags and buckets covering our table and kitchen counter.
At the 3 hour mark the girls started losing interest. Beans were transformed into vampire fangs, walrus tusks and missiles to launch across the table. Sadie spent 2 minutes deep in concentration, trying to summon her astral-beast (thanks, Adventure Time!) to finish trimming the pile of beans beside her. It was 7pm and time to call it quits.
We stacked the remaining bags with silent prayers that the column would stay in place until morning. We put the word out that we had green beans to share with anyone who would like any. Dirt-streaked children were fed, bathed and sent to bed.
We do quite a bit of ‘scavenging.’ While living in Colorado, we teamed up with a neighbor to help process and can hundreds of pounds of produce that they’d gotten from placing a Craigslist ad for gleaning. We’ve been the recipients of bumper crops and overgrowths, traded home-canned goods for fish and venison. When we discovered the cherry trees and wild berries on our property we started picking and freezing as much of the bounty as we could. The kids love bringing me wild chives and wild garlic from the woods.
We’ve really enjoyed doing this as a family. Not only does it help our grocery bill, it’s an excellent skill to work on. Farm-fresh green beans in January are always appreciated, and organic black raspberries are hardly even available in stores. The kids will always remember the mountain of beans and eating as many sun-warmed berries as they can hold. Whether it’s foraging, scavenging or anything else you’d like to call it, it’s free food. It’s a hands-on lesson in resourcefulness. It’s a chance to get outside and get creative. It’s memories.