After college, I tried to live as simply as possible. I found a cheap apartment, got rid of everything I owned, and lived on about $400 a month. I got interested in free online marketplaces, dumpster diving, and bartering. I spent a lot of time and energy thinking about how to save money and become more resourceful through reusing and recycling the things around me.
A group of friends and I started a dumpster-diving collective to conserve food and share it with each other. We figured out the exact days and times that different stores threw things away, and we had schedules and maps to work together to rescue as much food as possible.
After getting involved in this lifestyle, I met a group of likeminded people in the nearby suburb of Evanston. This group was actively involved in dumpster diving and “guerilla gardening,” and they had a canning operation as well. They would rescue food, can it, and then use it through the year, giving it out to anyone who wanted canned vegetables. I was very impressed with how organized and resourceful they were, especially during late fall.
Starting every year in late September, this group noticed that there were a lot of pumpkins being used for decorations in their neighborhood. People would decorate with whole, uncarved pumpkins. In fact, there was one neighbor who decorated with more than 50 pumpkins in their front yard. When this group saw these uncarved, perfectly good pumpkins, they started to plan on how they could rescue and reuse them for food.
They engaged others on social media, through community groups, and by good, old-fashioned door-to-door outreach. They asked people to donate any unwanted pumpkins after the season was over. They even befriended the 50-pumpkin family and arranged to take the pumpkins when the family chose to redecorate for Christmas. They would travel around the community with wagons and bike-trailers, collecting uncarved pumpkins as they went.
After gathering the pumpkins, they would check out their stockpile in the canning area. Those that were good to keep would be put in a root cellar to keep for future use. Those that needed to be processed would be cleaned, cut, and canned, or pureed, and then frozen. And those that were not suitable for food would be used for seeds, feeding chickens, and as compost.
After doing this for several years, this group had succeeded on a number of fronts. First, they rescued food that otherwise would have been tossed. Second, they produced some wonderful pumpkin recipes. Third, they came to know their neighbors and were soon collaborating with them.
Fall, especially during Halloween and Thanksgiving, is a wonderful time to be in community with others. There are lots of decorations, celebrations, candy, food, and the weather is great, too. Kids get to dress up, and everyone loves that! We cook soups and pies, and people are feeling social. It seems like a perfect time of the year for neighborly collaboration by sharing food and recipes with each other. As we do this, we can explore creative ways to partner with those members in our community that we do not know very well.
A strong community is a collaborative community—one that partners, in big and small ways, with each other.