Finding Free or Nearly Free Resources in Your Community

Leveraging free or nearly free resources is a smart thing for all urban homesteaders.  There are countless resources to access in your local community.  Although buying new may be the right choice for many things.  However, when embracing a more sustainable lifestyle choice to upcycle, reuse, and find alternative sources for resources should always be top of mind.  For instance, many inputs for your food forest are often waste items for others, such as wood chips, horse manure, and fallen leaves.  

The following suggestions are common resources urban homesteaders can get for free or nearly free.

Arborist Wood Chips

Wood chips are a waste product for arborists. There are many purposes in the urban homestead for woodchips.  The garden and food forest can be mulched with these wood chips.  Woodchips for chicken run is another popular use for woodchips. There are many different kinds of tree trimmers from urban private landscaping companies to municipal utility workers trimming around power lines on urban roads.  Contacting and accessing wood chips from these folks can take several different paths from calling the companies directly and getting put on a list or registering with a site like ChipDrop and being available to receive a load of chips.

A few things to be aware of when receiving arborist wood chips for food forest mulch.  The load may contain logs if you don’t specifically request no logs or limbs.  The load will likely be a variety of different species of trees and a mixture of chip size and leafy debris.  Lastly, it can be huge, 15 yards or more of wood chips for the garden.   Consequently, if you are not ready for a really big load, it could be too much to handle and you will be stuck trying to find someone else to come and get chips from you.  

If you are planting a fruit tree food forest garden there is nothing better than laying down six to eighteen inches of wood chips.  This will kickstart the fungal growth on your land and prime the soil for growing big and strong trees.


Fallen tree logs are perfect for building rustic raised garden beds.  The straight logs used for long sections or the logs can be cut in pieces and positioned in many different ways.  Natural log barriers for raised beds can stay in place for many seasons or rot and fall apart in a year or two depending on your environment and the log species.  Free firewood is another excellent option for turning free logs into an excellent resource.  Whether for heating your home or for outdoor fires free wood is a great way to use already fallen wood.

hugelkultur raised bed made from logs

Fallen Leaf Bags

Leaf bags from neighbors are an excellent source of carbon for composting or for creating leaf mold.  Fall leaves are raked up by the millions every single autumn.  These leaves are bagged up and then nicely placed on the edge of the street in big tall brown bags waiting for you to pick them up.  I have never heard a story of someone having a neighbor get upset that they took their leaves.

Leaves are an excellent source for amending and enriching your soils. Leaves can be utilized as is and placed on the ground for mulch.  However, they really excel when used in the compost pile or when stacked all by themselves to turn into leaf mold.  In short, a pile of leaves stacked up and let to sit by themselves for a year out in the elements will break down into a very rich amendment that plants love.  Apply leaf mold like you would mulch around your trees and vegetable gardens to feed the leaves to your plants.

Top Soil or Cut Sod

Excess topsoil or cut sod from a lawn removal is a resource of fill material that can be acquired easily.  Anytime someone is excavating some ground or removing a lawn they will end up with a large amount of material.  Free topsoil piles are the perfect resource to look for when building raised garden beds.  It can be very expensive to fill a 12 inch or taller raised garden bed with compost and soil from the big box store.  Despite the price, it is also very wasteful with all the plastic bags and should be avoided when you can find alternative sources for filling the bed up.  

Horse Manure or Other Animal Manure

Horse manure from the right source can be a good source of nitrogen to feed your soils.  Of course, the source for horse manure is very important.  Consequently, a horse that has been feeding on hay or bedding on straw that has been contaminated with herbicides can carry over into your garden.  

While horse stables will often be actively looking for places to offload their manure for next to nothing the risk can be high.  On the other hand finding another urban homesteader that has goats, rabbits, chickens, or ducks and they may be open to sharing their animal manure with you for free.  While most people will be composting their own to use in their gardens sometimes it can be nice to offload to a friend that is building some new garden beds.  Finding a neighbor to share manure with is a huge plus when you are building a garden with the sheet mulching method.

Bamboo Stakes

Bamboo is a wonderful building material.  Firstly, it grows quickly and replenishes itself without a lot of annual maintenance. Secondly, bamboo is a very strong material that is durable and will last for many years.  Thirdly, it grows straight and long. Lastly, in most urban settings individuals with bamboo in their gardens are using it for a screen or hedge and will want to keep it trimmed and maintained year after year.  By asking the neighbors in your community that has bamboo if you can cut a few poles you are likely doing them a favor and getting excellent building materials.

Bamboo is perfect for stakes in the garden or building a trellis.  It can also be incorporated into temporary or permanent fencing to keep animals in certain parts of your food forest and not in others.

Online Free Sections

Look for garden tools, pots, topsoil, fencing materials, make sure and check your local free sites online.  While a lot of the things in the free piles may not be perfect for you if you casually browse and jump on opportunities as they present themselves.  It is possible to score all kinds of free items.  Both craigslist and Facebook marketplace are good places to start looking for free items.  Ultimately, people give away all kinds of stuff for many reasons and it’s possible to also find great stuff for yourself or your home as well as the urban homestead.