How to Grow Food for Free in the City


Hey everyone, Rob Greenfield here, and we are at my urban Food is Free demonstration garden. This is going to be a crash course in how you can grow food for free, or with very, very little money. I’m going to cover all the limiting factors in gardening, so we’re going to go over how to get your garden beds, seeds, water, soil, mulch, compost, everything that you need in order to be able to grow food for free or very, very little money. So first thing’s first is raised beds, containers, what you’re going to be growing the food in. And, since this is a demonstration garden, I really wanted to show many ways that you can do this in urban environments or out in the countryside. So I’m going to show you the 10 different gardens that we have. So here we have an old nightstand. This is just as simple as laying it on it’s side, filling it with dirt, and then planting food in it. You can use things like bookshelves, drawers, anything like that, where you can just lay it on it’s side and fill it up with dirt. Here we have an old pallet. The bottom is the pallet as the base, and then around it, it’s just using the pieces of the pallets. Or, these are fence posts. 99% of all pallets in the United States are used 1 time, and then end up in a landfill. Pallets are endless. You can get them on Craigslist, behind grocery stores. So many ways to get them. So here’s another really simple raised bed. This is just old scrapwood. You could go buy brand new from the store, but the truth is that it’s laying all over the place. Here’s four 5- gallon buckets. These are free all over the place. You can go behind grocery stores or restaurants. They get a lot of their food ordered in this like mayo and pickles and things like that. So you can use these buckets. These are great for balconies and patios, and things like that. here we’ve got tires. In neighborhoods like where I am in Bankhead, Atlanta, there’s tires everywhere. They make a really simple, really easy raised bed, and you keep them out of the landfill. And then over here we’ve got milk crates, also thrown away like crazy, and you can make beautiful little gardens out of those as well. Another wasted resource that you can use is bricks. I got these from an abandoned apartment complex, which are just numerous all across the community here. This is my favorite of all. This is just an old toy car of sorts. I don’t know if it was a sandbox toy car or what, but anything that can hold in the dirt, you can use it. That’s the idea of making stuff for free and keeping it simple. And then we’ve got some vertical gardening here. This is a great way to use an old ladder. This is just a trash ladder I found in an abandoned apartment complex. And you just take old buckets, or whatever containers that you find for free, stack them up, and then you’ve got yourself a vertical garden. For people that live in urban places, apartments, vertical gardening is a way to really make your space go further. Here, I haven’t finished this yet, but this is just an old pallet. How this works, is you just have to seal the back. And then you fill it with soil, plant it with herbs… Right now I have some herbs sitting on top. Really cool thing here, talked about using your resources, using wasted resources. This is is an air conditioning unit. What I did is I positioned the plants underneath it. So these are actually using this water that would have otherwise been completely wasted. You would be amazed how much water you can get from an air conditioning unit. The key to making raised beds for free are to be creative, use wasted resources, use what is near by, and try to have the least environmental impact, and need as few virgin resources as possible. These are keys to always remember when freestyle gardening and trying to grow food for free. Composting is extremely simple and only as complicated as you make it. A lot of people worry that composting is this difficult thing, but the truth is that the worst thing you can do is not compost. As long as you are sticking your kitchen scraps, your yard waste, and so on, into this, and if you don’t even think you’re doing it right at all, that is far better than putting it in the landfill. Making a compost bin is also as simple as creating compost. This is just three pallets, nailed together, or you can use wire to connect them. It’s just so you can keep everything in and keep things like dogs out. Just add kitchen waste, yard waste, and paper waste together in a pile. You basically want a 30 to 1 Carbon to Nitrogen ratio. Carbon is your browns. Nitrogen is your greens. So browns would be things like dried leaves or cardboard. Greens are things like kitchen waste or yard waste that’s still green. Now, how to get compost for free when you’re just getting started: One, you can go to a lot of the city landfills. You can go to Google and do a quick search. Find out if your city landfill gives out free compost. This is compost they’re making from yard waste that they pick up, sometimes food waste, if they have that program. You can also go on Craigslist and just type in “compost.” You might find mushroom compost or a community garden that just went out of business. Just go on Craigslist, type in “compost,” See what you find, a lot of times you’ll find it for free or very cheap. You can also just make your own. There’s wasted resources all around you to make compost. Again, you just need to find your greens and your browns. Your nitrogens and your carbons. You can do this by finding yard waste, you can find huge piles of leaves or grass clippings all over your neighborhood and they’ll get your nitrogen. What you want to do is find food waste. You can do this in multiple ways. You can go dumpster diving. Grocery stores are a great place to get quality fruits and vegetables that are going to waste, that will make great compost. You can also ask your neighbors or local restaurants or businesses to hang on to their food waste and put it into 5 gallon buckets and then you’ll pick it up. You can talk to coffee shops to get their coffee grounds. So wasted resources are all around you, in order to get your compost materials for free. While we’re on compost, let’s talk about mulch and soil. You can get mulch for free, all around you. One way, old leaves. Collect them from your neighborhood. This is a great way to get mulch. Another way is cardboard. The idea of mulch is to do two things, really. One: to keep moisture in. It helps to keep the evaporation from happening and keep the moisture in the soil. Another thing is, it decreases your need to weed, because it doesn’t allow the sun to get through for weeds to be able to grow. As far as soil goes, you can go back to Craigslist and just type in “fill dirt” or “soil.” Fill dirt, a lot of times, you can get dirt from construction sites. They might just need to get rid of all of this dirt that they dug up. Another thing is you can see if there’s an abandoned garden, abandoned community garden, you can get soil or dirt from that a lot of times. Or, you might be able to just dig some up from an area in your yard, as long as you’re not messing with the native environment there. Rainwater harvesting is another thing that people think is really complicated, but it’s really just as simple as diverting the water from your roof into a container that can hold rain water. Simple as that. So what I have here, this house, when I got here earlier this month had no gutters whatsoever. If you have gutters, 90% of the work is already done. I simply put 10 feet of gutter on the roof and then all you need is a downspout that directs into the barrels. All I have is a down spout, and then I cut a hole in the top of the barrel, and put some mesh wire. This is so that you don’t have mosquitos that are able to get inside there. And then I just put these rocks here in order to make sure that the gutter downspout is going directly into the barrel. And then, on the bottom, it’s really nice to put a spigot on there, but not necessary. You can always go really simple and just scoop water out of the top. I like the system of having a spigot on here though, it makes it really easy. And then, what I do is, I just set an old bucket on the bottom of it. To water the garden, I have this bucket, which is just a bucket I found outside that was going to waste, and then I poked holes in the bottom. Makes it really easy to water. By watering your garden with rain water, we’re talking zero pennies. Zero money in order to be able to water your garden. Here is another way to use water that you wouldn’t normally have and would have been wasted. This is a simple 5 gallon bucket that came from inside the kitchen. You can put this under the sink and unscrew the P-trap and place this under the sink so that the water drains out. And then you bring it out every time you fill 5 gallons. or you can just place this next to the sink and then dump water in there from the bowls and things like that. So that’s called grey water. If you want to get a little bit fancier but still simple, you can do laundry to landscape, which is just taking your washing machine and setting it up so that the water comes out into the garden. You can also put a bucket in your shower, or you can do the same thing and send your shower water directly out here. Another cool thing you can do is just set up your hose as a shower, next to your garden, so that the water goes straight into your garden. Lot of ways to be able to get water for free, and use wasted sources of water. Now, when I first got into gardening, I never would have thought that there’s a way to get seeds for free. But even seeds can be gotten for free, and there’s a lot of different ways. Once you’ve started gardening, all you have to do is save your seeds. Let some of the plants go to seed and then harvest those seeds so you’ll have them for your next planting. But, if you’re just getting started, you won’t have that. So what you can do is you can go to gardens in your community. A lot of times, community gardens where they might have neglected plots, will have tons of plants that have gone to seed. Ask if you can go there and harvest those seeds. Another thing you can do is talk to your neighbors, talk to people who are gardening, and ask if they have seeds that they’ve saved. A little bit of seeds goes a really long way. Another thing you can do is ask people in the community if they have seeds that are going to waste. Seeds that are older and they might not use. What you’re going to want to do if the seeds are older is probably plant them first in little trays that you can actually test to see if they work, before putting them in the soil. You can harvest them from nature as well, if you can find wild plants. So, a lot of ways to get seeds for free. Lastly, if you are short on cash, if you really want to start gardening but you don’t have the money, I can cover the seeds for you, it’s one of the things that I do. And to figure out how to do that, to get more information, just go to my website, robgreenfield.tv/freeseeds and you’ll be able to get seeds for free. So there’s no reason why you won’t have seeds between one of those, to get your garden going. Another limiting factor can be space. But if you have a creative mind and you’re resourceful, there’s spaces all around you. You can use balconies, window sills… You can use porches and patios. You can use vertical spaces. You can turn lawns into gardens. Just grow food, not lawns. You can also use other people’s vacant space. So there’s people who have their yards that aren’t getting used. Just grow it in their yards, of course, ask them. And then give them a percentage of the food so they are getting food for free. You can also join a community garden or make a community garden if there isn’t one. And you can also freestyle garden in abandoned lots or unwanted locations. One really important thing I wanted to say is that food is actually growing for free all around you if you open up your eyes. You can eat the weeds. There’s broad leaf plantain. There’s dandelion greens. There’s lambs quarter. Some of the most nutritious plants are growing all over us, in the cities and the countryside. We don’t even have to do any of the work. It’s just growing there, ready to feed our bodies. So get into some wild foraging. I hope that what you’ve seen here in this video, is that gardening doesn’t have to be expensive it doesn’t have to be challenging, it can be really fun, you can do it with very low to no environmental impact, while actually increasing the positive impact you have on the world around you. You can involve your neighbors, involve your community, and grow food to feed yourself, feed your neighbors, and to make the world a better place. If you want to learn more, more details and figure out excatly how you can you can do this, you can go to robgreenfield.tv/foodforfree Thanks a lot for joining, and grow some food! Subtitles by the Amara.org community

100 thoughts on “How to Grow Food for Free in the City

  1. Those buckets aren't free by me. Dumpsters are enclosed with a shute from the building the stuff is dumped down, so u can't dumpster dive.
    The places that will let u have them charge $3 each. Also, u don't see wood like that around except at construction sites, & they have cameras, guards &/or fences. They will arrest u

  2. Thank you Rob! Inspiring and practical 😀 The only thing I would add is to be careful with the buckets, try to understand what they have been used before as they may have toxic residues. Grow food not lawns! 😉

  3. That neighborhood is trashed. How sad. Do not grow food in tires, or lumber that's painted, or old dressers. Do not use water from the air conditioner. Toxic.

  4. You're compost veggies are great places to get seeds as well. Almost all of my plants come from seeds and starts from my veggie scraps. Keep the bottom stems from lettuces, cabbage, green onions, carrots etc. All potatoes will grow starts that you can put in water to grow roots. Then plant them. Almost all other veggies have seeds. I save all my seeds in the late winter and get them planted in old egg cartons or whatever else I can get cheap at the dollar store. There are seed swaps online that make for some awesome selections. You can trade with people all over the country.

  5. I believe it is a researcher with the University of Alberta who determined that food plants grown in soil from a municipal dump do not contain more toxins than produce bought at the grocery store.

  6. Wow I’ve never seen such a dumpy city! Why doesn’t the city clean up those areas? Good on you for Cleaning up the city for free.

  7. I so know what I'm going to do with my sons Corvette bed when he's ready to move on up….LOL Can't wait to see the faces of my neighbors when I put it in the front yard!

  8. Wow thanks for the video, it gave me a lot of great ideas. I live in SF so living int he city could be hard but not impossible 🙂

  9. you're plants look so ill and inedible. sorry. please show a video of this principle when your plants actually feed someone.

  10. Whoah—this shows me how limited my thinking has become! Calm down everyone screaming “toxic!”: your garden hose (PVC) and seedling trays (polystyrene) are toxic. Your carpet in your house releases toxic fumes. If you aren’t eating all organic all the time, you’re ingesting toxic pesticides and contributing to fertilizer runoff that pollutes streams. Rob’s ideas are viable solutions with a little bit of knowledge: avoid plastics numbered 3, 6 and 7, but 5-gallon buckets are #5. Get them used from a restaurant to know they’re food safe. Tires biodegrade slowly and generally into non-absorbable components. AC unit condensate is condensation: purer water condensed from the air (like on a cold glass of your toxic diet soda) than out of your tap, not leaking chems from the inside.

    These tips could make a real difference, especially in urban food deserts (where convenience store food is certainly not a better option) and maybe even with homeless populations. I am so inspired by this! It takes five minutes of research to figure out what products are safe, and there were so many other wonderful tips here. Don’t let your immediate fear of the unknown scare you from doing something wonderful when what is known and common could be far more dangerous. (**Edited in the comments to add a note about soil.)

  11. Pallets are not 99 percent used one time. People steal pallets from behind grocery stores but that's private property and they are constant reused until unusable. Some roofing companies use one time.

  12. I just want to say thank you for such a great teaching video, I enjoyed it very much, and I also want to say thank you for sharing your seeds with others, how kind of you , I'm sure you put a big smile on our Hevenly Fathers face. Keep up the great work, have a blessed day.😊

  13. Lambsquarter are awesome. I even collected their seeds and grow them deliberately in my garden now. So nutritious. Better than spinach. But hey.. definitely DON'T use tires. Tons of bad chemicals in those. According to the EPA, benzene, mercury, styrene-butadiene, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, arsenic, heavy metals, and carcinogens, have been found in tires. There might even be bits of asbestos from where they've been exposed to brake pads. You want to be careful with plastics also. Stick to food grade if you have to use them. Even skids, make sure you're using skids that were used for food or non-toxic substances – especially since they're so porous and able to absorb whatever might have spilled on them.

  14. Here in MI you can get veggie seeds and plants w/ a food card. Also can grow from actual food purchased in the grocery. Onion roots and avocado seeds ECT.

  15. What I would like to know is this. How much of what you guys grow in your gardens actually fills your plate? Did you have tomatoes, chives and herbs for dinner? People always talk about gardening like it’s the main food source for them. It’s great, and you can eat stuff from the garden but it seems to me like it’s part of what’s on the plate. Sometimes a very small part. I’m not saying it isn’t beneficial to garden, but stay in your lane with the declarations.

  16. Great suggestions. Also, to determine if seeds are viable put a few on a damp paper towel. Fold over so the seeds are well covered. Keep damp for about 5 days. When the towel is unfolded, good seeds will have started to sprout. Fresh food will always taste better than store bought.

  17. Its not free – It takes money to grow your own food.
    We have our own gardens and green house. Lots of man hours, time, planting weeding fertilizing fighting nature, pest, heat , rain.

  18. Awesy so inspiring .. I'm interested in seeds, foraging and I launching a community garden with my granddaughter gotta scout troop in April!!! THX for the tips and ideas!!!

  19. This is a great video to open the eyes of possibilities for anyone especially those with less funding options. Yes you do have to keep in mind leeching but overall Great job!

  20. Let's use nature for our own benefice… sin for electric ..water for grow the plants Land for food etc we need only the basic for living.

  21. Am waiting for a big load of wood chips from chipdrop.com but in the meantime … I am finding amazing mulch all over my property! 1. Where the woodpile used to be, 2. along my leach line close to where trees were and leaves and weeds were … (AMAZING SOIL/MULCH!), 3. Where my father-in-law is dumping grass clippings, brush, etc at the bottom of my property! WHO KNEW I HAD SO MUCH amazing mulch in my Arizona CLAY soil yard!

  22. dry areas like colorado have problems breaking food and grass down to use in the garden. how do you do that naturally? here they recommend a powder you buy at the garden center

  23. I don't have room for a compost structure so I compost in buckets or directly into the garden bed or container (I use mostly containers – rubber maid bins with holes in the bottom or sides for drainage). Just bury the left over food scraps, leaves, lawn clippings.. into the garden. It will break down as you water. Takes no additional space and works great. Can also let some soak in a bucket of water. After a few days it will start to smell, P-EWE. Pour the smelly "compost water" over your plants, makes for a great compost "tea". No need to spend money on fertilizers.

  24. I am wondering about the water from washing machine going on the plants….. it is just soap and I use melaleuca detergent so that is safer for the environment, but I do wonder if it is ok for food gardens?

  25. The US have/make a lot of waste, so you are right to utilise it. However there are a lot of places around the world where very little is for free. These places are already using whatever they can, so I guess your vids are for mainly for the US. Great ideas though, but very local.

  26. Doesn't it concern you that growing food on roadsides and front yards with a lot of passing traffic, can be polluted from exhaust fumes ?

  27. I have a freezer full of Trump steaks. Trump teaches real Americans to oppose all this new-age nonsense and belly on down to your local Canyonero dealer and pick up a BRAND NEW CANYONERO for just $59,889, then use it to commute to your local Trump steak outlet via your friendly corner Exxon. God bless America and I look forward to my reelection in 2020 !!!!!!!!!!!

  28. Omg you're in my area, I had no idea until you mentioned Atlanta/Bankhead, that's so cool! Now I have to subscribe because we're in the same zone! 😁

  29. I love this video! Thanks so much for covering all the basics so others can get started on the journey!

  30. This is really helpful! I got a lot of seeds from the food bank and I have been putting them in used plastic cups, containers I made from scrap cardboard, and some pots my mom had in her garden. I took some of her compost and mixed it with some leftover soil she had from a hanging plant, and now I have a bunch of seeds planted and possibly growing!

  31. Till the cats crap in the boxes….. The mice,rats, squires, chipmunks, raccoons all dig up the seeds…..and plates…..then theres the neighbors…..you would starve to death before you grow enough at this….ya the dumpster divers are going to have access to "Craig list" 😕

  32. Free seeds: my local public library repurposed the wooden card catalog cabinets and let the local garden club set up envelopes of seeds for people to “check-out”. Very popular.

  33. Just wandered onto your video and I really enjoyed it. I live in the country (in France) and grow vegetables in various types of containers. I use my well to water along with rain water, and grow organically…or as organically as possible. I was really impressed by the way and the quantity of food you "process". More power to you and thanks!

  34. Wait what, pallets are just being thrown out in the US? In Denmark we can sell them back to certain types of stores and receive around 15 dollers for each pallet. It's kinda funny how things work differently around the world ^^

  35. I’m inspired by your enthusiasm and creativity, thank you for this video. I’m wondering if you’ve ever thought about doing a project for a homeless community? I live in San Pedro, CA, this is the port of Los Angeles, a small coastal industrialized sleepy town. We have a large settlement of homeless that live just outside our main post office on Beacon St. It would be amazing to work with some of the homeless to teach them to forage and grow their own food and possibly learn to live waste free. I dunno it’s just a thought, but wouldn’t that be a wonderful thing?

  36. Another idea for growing food WITHOUT PAYING FOR SEEDS- grow from foods you are already eating. For example, plant the bottoms of green onions to grow more, leave the bottom of a bunch of celery and let grow, organic potatoes and sweet potatoes can grow grow two or more plants each, plant the cloves from a head of garlic, sprout beans or grains, etc. You could even try growing fruit trees this way if you have the time, space, and are willing to experiment with a plant that will vary from the original. You can also take cuttings from almost any herb (here is a good link https://learningherbs.com/skills/herbs-from-cuttings/).

  37. I have gotten dying seedlings from the farmers co-op for free. Most of them thrive after planting, just a later harvest if you have a long enough season

  38. I am sorry, why create raised beds at all, why now just plant anywhere where there is level or slanted ground. Vertical gardening is ok it saves space, or if you don't have horizontal space then vertically you go.

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