Newly thrifty Americans go foraging

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Miranda Walton’s old Ford pickup was collecting dust on her ranch in Austin, Texas, so she decided to trade it in for something she needed -- goats.

A "Freegan" holds a bag of food found while hunting through trash at markets along Third Avenue in New York March 18, 2009. REUTERS/Eric Thayer

Walton, 38, will get milk for her three sons, a tax break for using her land for raising livestock and someone will get a sturdy truck.

There’s no cash involved, making Walton one of a growing number of Americans who are looking outside the traditional economy to confront the recession.

People are turning to bartering, foraging and trash salvaging.

“The most important underlying concept here is that Americans of all classes are now willing to accept the viability of a secondary market,” said Paco Underhill, chief executive of the New York-based retail consultancy Envirosell and author of “Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping.”

Walton used the online classifieds site to list her ad seeking to swap the truck for goats.

“We went through a really big expense at the beginning of this year, so money is a little tight,” she said.

Nationwide data is not collected on these practices, but anecdotal evidence indicates they are growing.

Bartering listings on Craigslist have doubled over the last 12 months, site spokeswoman Susan MacTavish Best said.

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The Freecycle Network, a nonprofit for people who want to offer or receive free items, has seen a spike in membership since last October, when weekly membership increases jumped to about 75,000 per week, up from about 30,000, founder Deron Beal said.

Though Freecycle has an environmental slant, people are using the site to ask for basic necessities such as food and clothing, Beal said.


Some people are finding a way to get food for free -- from the trash.

Nichel Berea, a broke 21-year-old senior at Baruch College in New York, recently decided to give it a try after reading about “freegans,” the anti-consumerists who boycott the economy by dumpster-diving for food.

The trend has existed for years, but as the economy has deteriorated some say they’ve found greater acceptance.

“Imagine all you have to do is pay the rent. And everything else is either hand me downs and swaps,” Berea said.

“More people are becoming open to it,” said Cindy Rosin, of, an informational site, adding that previously a lot of interest had been politically motivated.

Others forage for wild plants. “Wildman” Steve Brill, who leads foraging tours through New York’s parks, said he’s seen more people on his tours. They forage for plants such as chickweed, a low-lying weed that tastes a bit like corn, or ginko seeds.

“I never had 70 people in my tours, and yet I had three (groups of 70) last year as the economy started to spiral downwards,” Brill said. “There are some people that are survivalist and there are some people that want to save money and get delicious fresh greens and berries that are organic without paying an arm and a leg.”

Dylan Thuras, a 26-year-old freelance video editor who went on a recent tour with Brill in Manhattan, said he finds foraging skills “strangely comforting.”

“There’s a kind of fatalism going on. People like to think about what they would do if they had no job,” Thuras said.

But he wondered if the idea was more romantic than practical. “I’m very dubious that you could survive on what’s in Central Park.”

Editing by Daniel Trotta and Cynthia Osterman