Hubcap Gallery

May 21, 2009 at 7:54 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Aslakson Sarah1,041 rusty old hubcaps are being transformed into “canvases” by 1,041 different artists, thanks to Ken Marquis and his Landfill Art project. Some use oil paint or acrylic paint, but others weld or glue or screw stuff onto the caps, weave onto the caps and carve the caps to make sculptures. (A painted example by Sarah Aslakson is depicted at left.)

“I have found that the fine artists I have worked with on this project do not even flinch when looking at this white round disc of metal canvas,” writes Pennsylvania art-and-frame-shop owner Marquis, who bought a load of rusty caps last August. “And why should they. Artists from the beginning of time have used cave walls — Lascaux, France and Altamira, Spain — walls of pyramids (Egyptians) animal skins (American Indians), etc. as their canvas. In addition, as a gallery owner for over thirty years, I maintain that artists, generally speaking, are more ecologically in touch and environmentally aware. Perhaps that is the reason forty-one artists readily accepted the challenge and embraced the project.

“Although the project is in its infancy (I hope to have it completed by 2012), it will evolve from a simple idea of taking forty-one old rusted hub caps and creating forty-one pieces of great art. The second phase has already started with the acquisition of one thousand additional (1,000) rusted hub caps which will be turned into cleaned and primed ‘metal canvases,'” Marquis explains.

“The third phase will involve publishing a book on the project showcasing all one thousand forty one (1,041) completed ‘metal canvases.’ The fourth and final phase will involve choosing 200 metal canvases that adequately represent the project and create a traveling show. The book and traveling show will publically portray the global art community’s effort to positively impact the environment through repurposing previous metal waste into great landfill art.”

The Scavenged Building: Berkeley’s Brower Center

May 5, 2009 at 5:20 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 26 Comments

Yesterday, we were given a special sneak-preview of downtown Berkeley’s David Brower Center, a bold 50,000-square-foot experiment in “green from the ground up” architecture that opens to the public on May 10. A whopping 53 percent of its construction involves recycled materials, which makes this complex of offices, conference rooms, public space, art gallery, theater, organic restaurant, and more into the world’s biggest scavenged building.

Come along with us on a photo tour of the Brower Center’s many scavenged components.

The curved façade of the Brower Center, at Allston Way and Oxford Street.

The curved façade of the Brower Center, at Allston Way and Oxford Street.

Recycled, repurposed, and reused goods infuse the walls, carpets, furniture, fixtures, plumbing, and other aspects of this four-story structure which is expected to receive LEED Platinum, the highest certification, from the U.S. Green Building Council.


A table made out of repurposed planks from an old wine vat.

On the ground floor, executive director Amy Tobin showed us salvaged-wood tables, benches, and a lustrously smooth black-acacia countertop created by Paul Discoe, an ordained Buddhist priest and author of Zen Architecture whose Oakland-based company, Live Edge, utilizes lumber from urban street trees that have been cut down due to storm damage, disease, and for other reasons.


The center’s soaring concrete walls include up to 70 percent slag. Runoff from the steel-smelting process, slag was long unwanted but is now hailed for its fortifying properties and its ability to help concrete bear weight. The presence of slag in construction also significantly reduces CO2 and cement content.

The ground-floor reception area is set into a geometric grotto whose walls, in soaring bands of varied browns, are a mixture of plaster and salvaged soils. It’s a permanent art installation, dubbed “Earth Niche” by its creator, Marisha Farnsworth, whose company The Natural Builders specializes in construction with such substances as earth, cob, and salvaged straw.

“We think of the Brower Center as more ‘art’ than ‘building,'” Tobin says.


The south side of the building, showing the shading devices over each window and the solar panels on the roof. The U.C. Berkeley campus is visible in the background.

Ever since planning began in 2000, the process has focused on sustainability, from methods to materials. The resulting structure, designed to be 40 percent more energy-efficient than conventional ones, includes a daylighting program that employs zinc siding and photovoltaic panels that double as sun-shades so that, optimally, artificial lights need never be used during daytime in many parts of the building; high-efficiency lighting with automatic controls limit use when daylight is adequate. Windows that actually open and close (a rare sight in office buildings) and low-pressure ventilation via a raised floor system increase indoor air quality.


Some nonprofit tenants have already moved into the not-quite-finished building.

Radiant heating and cooling operate via tubes set into the concrete structural slabs. Non-toxic fabrics and finishes are used throughout. Upright steel cables create a “self-healing seismic system” designed to protect and preserve the center during an earthquake; much of Berkeley is built atop a fault. An interactive real-time systems-monitoring dashboard, set to be mounted in the lobby, will allow passersby to monitor the building’s energy consumption.


A table made from a salvaged urban tree, standing on replaceable carpet tiles.

Interface FLOR carpeting, which includes the industry’s highest percentage of recycled content in both the pile and the backing, is used throughout the center. While it runs wall-to-wall in some areas, in others it is laid in tile form, with each small square separately detachable. So in the event of a spill or stain, the whole rug need not be ripped out of a room and replaced: rather, just a tile or two.


Restrooms are a building’s “private parts,” and the counters in the Brower Center’s restrooms largely comprise chunks of recycled glass. The water in the toilets is repurposed too: Faintly yellow, it looks like you-know-what, but it’s really rainwater, collected in a cistern. “Toilet water,” Tobin reasons, “doesn’t have to look drinkable.”


Elsewhere in the building, a chain fashioned from recycled bits of artillery shells is used to channel rainwater into a vessel, where it is saved for re-use. And water isn’t an issue at all in the men’s-room urinals, which are Berkeley’s first waterless urinals.


“In trying to build the right way,” Tobin says, “we’re trying to send a message here, to establish a track record and a model so that other communities can see how it’s done. We’re setting a standard. We need to change how we build cities.”

Well…we can start by scavenging.


The salvaged black-acacia countertop in the lobby.


A bench also made from salvaged wood.

The 2009 No-Cost Garden

April 24, 2009 at 12:28 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 56 Comments

This year we are taking a vow: We will try to grow at least half of our food in a garden that costs us nothing to create and maintain.

In order to achieve this we are initiating a new concept: No-cost gardening.

There’s a lot of talk these days about reviving the “victory garden” as a way to help Americans get through the current economic hard times. But there’s a serious flaw in this proposal: As currently practiced in much of urban America, gardening is no longer a way to save money on your food budget. Instead, gardening has evolved into a rather expensive upscale hobby similar to golf or sailing. All the different necessary accoutrements of the backyard garden can be quite pricey. The reason many people don’t try to grow food in their gardens is that they assume that the overall expense of gardening will cost them more in the long run than it would to simply buy all the same produce in the grocery store.

And while that assumption is accurate if you take into account the way most home gardening hobbyists operate, things don’t need to be that way. Using the principles of scavenging, it is possible to create a neverending cornucopia of vegetables, fruits, herbs and legumes in a garden that costs you essentially nothing at all to create and maintain.

This post will show exactly how we do it. Want to join the fun and learn how to eat year-round for free? Read on!

This is the main gardening plot in our backyard. As you can see, it’s not particularly huge. Because of that, we also have various smaller side-plots here and there around the house. In fact, let’s consider that our first recommendation:

Maximize your growing area. Whether you rent or own your home, try to clear out and make use of any potential gardening beds. The sunnier, the better. Because the more space you have, the more you can grow. And the more you grow, the more you eat home-grown food and the more money you save.

(And if you don’t have a yard of any kind that you can use, try some guerrilla gardening on unused public land.)

It’s still spring, so most of our seeds are still germinating in the ground or have just recently sprouted, so the garden doesn’t look too impressive yet. But come back this summer for an update when the produce-heavy season is in full swing!

This is our gardening tool shelf. As is pretty obvious, we have accumulated a ramshackle assemblage of decidedly unglamorous tools for gardening. All of which were obtained for free, through scavenging. The bowls and buckets, used for holding pulled-out weeds, and also for holding harvested vegetables, were found in various FREE boxes and/or were being thrown away after garage and rummage sales. The short-handled triangular hoe in the front is just the end of a broken full-size hoe that someone had tossed out; we salvaged it and have found that this mini version is even more useful than the long-handled original. (Same applies to the short flat-edged hoe next to it.) The various snippers and trowels and sprinklers are all slightly substandard discards rescued from the all-too-common piles of gardening leftovers that people tend to leave out for the trash collectors at the end of each gardening season. (The only tool in the picture that cost us anything is the high-quality red-handled snippers, which we bought for 50¢ at a yard sale.)

So the next piece of advice is:

Don’t buy chi-chi gardening implements to impress your friends and neighbors. That’s totally unnecessary. The free or nearly-free ones you can scavenge generally work just as well. Gardening is not about showing off; it’s just about getting down and dirty. And a dinged-up slightly rusty trowel will do the job just as well as the shiny brand-new one.

Now we’re getting down to the nitty-gritty: Where do we get all our seeds from, and how do we get them for free? As you can see from this photo (and the one below) showing just a small percentage of the over 100 types of seeds we have accumulated, we have an amazingly wide variety of familiar and exotic garden vegetables from every imaginable source, including home-collected seeds (in the packets with the hand-lettered labels) as well as seeds from dozens of commercial seed companies, both well-known and obscure.

We get our seeds from many scavenging-type sources, including:

– Saving the seeds from store-bought produce. It’s amazing how often this works and yet how few people do it. Save out a few seeds from a cherry tomato in your salad, plant them, and — alakazam! — you’re likely to get a tomato plant. Same is true for bell peppers, melons, eggplants, and many other fruits and vegetables that might be in your refrigerator right now.

– Buying expired and old seed packets at garage sales for very little money. Old seed packets don’t crop up too often at sales, but when they do, you can often get them for ten cents or twenty-five cents a packet. If the seller is trying to overcharge you, turn the packet over and point out that the seeds expired years ago and are thus essentially worthless; that usually works in helping to drive the price down to pocket change level. (Yes, this violates our “no-cost” rule for gardening, but every now and then we have to bend the rules a little. Ten cents for a hundred seeds isn’t much of a bend.)

– The Bay Area Seed Interchange Library (BASIL), which is a local nonprofit group which runs a no-cost seed “library” where users can “borrow” seeds for free and plant them, with the tacit agreement that the following year, if some of your plants have bolted and gone to seed, you return them eventually. In practice, however, the BASIL library — a corner in the local ecology center — is basically used as a permanent “seed swap,” at which anyone can bring in and donate seeds, and then take away some different seeds in trade. Which is generally what we do: Whatever seeds we find that we have an excess of, or which we can’t grow particularly well in our exact micro-climate, we bring and donate, and then see if there are any new seeds in the (engagingly messy) library for us to take away in trade. Luckily, some commercial seed companies have taken to occasionally donating to the library substantial quantities of their expired seed packets that are past the sell-by date (which are thereby normally discarded), so sometimes very interesting and unusual seeds can be found at BASIL. For example, the last time we visited, we donated some arugula seeds and melon seeds, and discovered hundreds of packets of expired “Ecoseeds” for exotic peppers, cucumbers and herbs, a few of which we “borrowed” for planting back home. (If you don’t live in the San Francisco Bay Area and can’t visit BASIL, there are similar organizations in other places around the country; do a Web search for your area.)

(…Free seed tips continued below the next photo…)


– Seed swaps. Various clubs and cliques of gardening enthusiasts hold “seed exchanges” or “seed swaps” in which a group of like-minded individuals get together to trade seeds, in an effort to increase everyone’s biodiversity. We’ve only done this a few times, but each time has been an interesting experience.

– Seed sales at discount stores. If you’re lucky, you can catch the right moment when some discount supermarkets drastically lower the prices of already-cheap seed packets as they approach their expiration dates. Last year a local discount store was selling packets at 10 for a dollar. Again, not quite free, but almost free.

And of course:

– Saving the seeds from the plants we planted last year. We always try to let at least one plant of each type “bolt” and go to seed, so we can save its seeds and start the cycle all over again the following year.

A key principle to remember about many of these techniques:

Expired seeds are not like expired food. Once a packet of seeds is “past its expiration date,” it doesn’t mean that it has spoiled and needs to be thrown out. All it means is that the seeds have started to get a little old and as a result begun to lose some of their potency. A new packet of seeds will have somewhere between a 70% and 90% germination rate. A packet that is one year past its sell-by date will have a 60% germination rate; after two years it falls to 40%-50%, and so on. Generally, after about four or five years past expiration, seeds are pretty much kaput, though it depends on the type of vegetable. We still have some seeds from 2000 that still germinate pretty reliably, but that’s a rare case. So our tip for this aspect of no-cost gardening is:

Get old packets of seeds for free or cheap, then plant more than you need, taking into account the fact that only half of the seeds at most will ever sprout.


We’re still at the beginning of our gardening season, but we already have this lettuce growing quite healthily. It sprouted from seeds that appeared on a few heads of last year‘s lettuce which we had allowed to bolt.

Back in the garden: We plant beans along the wall, and then when they reach a certain height we contruct haphazard trellises from scavenged scraps of wood. Notice how each bean sprout is of a different type: We purposely planted a very wide variety of beans (purple runner beans, lima beans, Asian “long beans,” yellow beans, etc.) to see which would grow the best. Turns out this year they’re all growing pretty well, so we’re going to have a wild assortment of beans to eat later.

This picture shows some of our many cucumber sprouts. They might look all the same, but each sprout is of a different kind of cucumber: some are normal “Straight Eight” standard garden cucumbers, some are Armenian cucumbers; others are lemon cucumbers, pickling cucumbers, Japanese cucumbers, Persian cucumbers, and more.

That’s always our goal with our garden: Variety. Which leads us to our next tip:

Plant as wide a variety of vegetables, herbs, fruits and legumes as possible. It makes the harvest so much more interesting, and makes your home-grown meals less repetitive.

A good example of this principle: Ajwain. What the heck is ajwain? you might ask. We had never heard of it either until we found several expired packets of ajwain seeds at BASIL, and took some home just on general principles. Turned out they flourished, as you can see. So within a couple months we had more ajwain than we knew what to do with. A bit of online research revealed that ajwain is the secret ingredient in Indian food that makes it taste uniquely Indian, which is why when you try to make curry at home it almost never tastes quite as good as in a restaurant. You can eat the frilly green ajwain leaves or cook with the seeds later in the season. One way or another, we add it to all our Indian dishes now, and are amazed at how it enhances their flavor.


There’s more to growing a successful garden than just seeds, trowels and dirt. Often you’ll need some kind of fertilizer and other soil treatments; various stakes for the growing plants; larger buckets for hauling things around; and of course a hose for the water. All of which you see in this picture — and all of which we scavenged. (The hose was given to us by a relative who was replacing it and getting a new one.)


Fertilizer is actually fairly easy to find at estate sales and garage sales. Because, unlike seeds, it never “expires” or goes bad. Often people will move or retire or simply lose interest in gardening, and when they do all their old supplies generally end up for sale or for free. Most of the fertilizer we’ve accumulated is positively antique. The “49’er Rose Food” bag looks like it’s from the 1970s at the latest , but it was still sealed when we bought it for 50¢ at a garage sale. The fertilizer spikes are at least 25 years old and were being tossed out when a foreclosed house was being emptied, as was the “Vitaman B” concoction which is quite handy when transplanting sprouts (something we have to do often due to the irregularity of old seed germination). The two clear plastic tubs are simply re-purposed containers holding some generic fertilizer that we found in a disintegrating bag someone had set out for the trash.

The only “new”-ish product in our arsenal is the box of Miracle-Gro, which we bought half-empty at an estate sale for $1, and is just about the most expensive thing in our entire yard. But we made up for it by creating a “sprinkler” for the Miracle-Gro by poking holes in the lid of an empty plastic juice bottle.

We also of course have a compost pile, to let nature’s scavengers (earthworms) turn our discarded vegetable matter into topsoil.

Our buckets were salvaged from the trash bin outside a Japanese restaurant: an empty five-gallon Kikkoman soy-sauce container and a bulk container for pickled ginger.

Our stick collection — used as stakes and “dividers” marking off the various planting areas in the garden — is a typical scavenger’s horde: warped dowels, broom handles, bamboo sticks, broken golf clubs, random metal poles, chopsticks and basically any long slender scrap of wood we happen upon.

The sticks in action.

Springtime is the season for “volunteers” — plants that grow accidentally in your garden, either sprouting from old roots, or from seeds that fell to the ground accidentally or which were brought up to the surface when the soil was turned. Here a small forest of volunteer Chinese broccoli (which is sort of a cross between bok choy and regular broccoli) competes for space with some volunteer Buttercrunch lettuce.

Meanwhile, in a sunnier spot, an intentionally planted zucchini seed has successfully sprouted and looks destined for a long, healthy and productive season. A single zucchini seed can grow into a plant that can make literally 50 pounds of zucchini in a year, if properly nurtured. With four zucchini plants you can feed the whole neighborhood.

Of course, we can’t grow all our food in the garden; that’s why we only propose to grow half of our food. We are vegetarians, but things like wheat, rice, tea, sugar, milk, bananas and any processed food will have to come from the store.


Whenever we find that some seeds have fallen out of their packets, and we no longer know what is what, instead of throwing them away we collect them all together and toss them into a “miscellaneous” zone to see what comes up. This year’s miscellaneous zone seems to be dominated by arugula and various mystery greens.


Some plants are so hardy they work as perennials: this cluster of collard greens and red chard was planted over a year ago, and no matter how many times we harvest the leaves, they keep growing back.

This brings up a good tip that’s important for any kind of garden, no-cost or otherwise:

Plant each type of vegetable in the appropriate part of your yard’s ecosystem. We planted these collard greens in a semi-protected shady area, and as a result they survived the summer heat; but the peppers and cucumbers we planted in the hottest part of the yard. Know your garden’s sun and shade zones, and plant accordingly.


We planted some old tomatillo seeds in the full sun, and marked the seed locations with scavenged popsicle sticks. None of the seeds we planted sprouted — but dozens of volunteer tomatillos popped up nearby anyway, the descendents of last year‘s tomatillo crop, some of which had fallen to the ground.

Every year we try to plant basil; every year they sprout, and then every year snails and slugs eat the baby basil plants almost immediately. We still haven’t figured out a scavenged solution for this problem. Snails and slugs seem to love basil above all other delicacies.


We’ve designated this end of our garden the “herb zone”: a huge flourishing bush of oregano, some parsley at the front, chives at the back, and some thyme and basil struggling to get a foothold.

Our microclimate is sometimes just a tad too cool for peppers, but a recent brief heatwave caused these exotic pepper varieties to germinate wonderfully. Let’s hope the summer stays warm enough for us to get some fruit off them eventually.

In the coolest, shadiest back corner of a side area we planted some bok choy. It does well in the winter in our garden, but summer heat often causes it to bolt prematurely. But since seeds are basically free for us, it doesn’t cost us anything to experiment and plan for every contingency. So our final tip is:

When using free scavenged seeds, plant both hot-weather and cool-weather crops in the same garden each spring; that way, whether the summer season turns out to be sunny or cloudy, you’ll at least have something that grows successfully.

It’s not all about vegetables. This is one of our flower areas, but we’ve been lackadaisical and haven’t finished de-weeding yet to plant our scavenged salpiglossis, marigold and petunia seeds. Notice the garden ornament at the back, which we found buried in a tangled thicket when we first cleared out the backyard.

Here’s a dose of reality. Not everything we try turns out well. This is the area where we planted dozens of Thai eggplant seeds. Problem is, there was no expiration date on the package, so we didn’t know how old they were. Not a single one sprouted. This is an inescapable part of any scavenged no-cost garden: Not everything you try will succeed.

And here’s why: this photo shows the back sides of various randomly selected seed packets from our collection. As you can see, the expiration dates range from 2002 up to 2007. Some of them are getting pretty old, and have lost almost all their potency. When that happens, we just dump the entire packet in the soil and hope maybe one or two seeds will germinate. If not — it’s time to start scavenging some new seeds!

One last note: water.

Yes, our water comes out of the hose just as at any other home, and as such it isn’t exactly scavenged, nor is it free. We do have to pay the water company. But a careful examination of our bimonthly bill reveals that only a small percentage of the charge is for the actual water itself. Most of the bill is for administrative and standard charges that would remain the same whether or not we used any water. Turns out we’re being charged only about $6 for every two months of water usage, which works out to $3/month, or 10¢/day. And only about a third of that at most is used for watering our garden (as opposed to household uses). So we’re paying only about 3¢/day for our garden water, which may not be free, but it’s pretty close to free.

We hope this tour of our scavenged garden has inspired you to try no-cost gardening yourself!

Come See Us

April 15, 2009 at 7:15 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Check us out tonight in San Francisco at Borders bookstore (400 Post St., 415.399.1633). We’ll be there at 7 p.m. to talk, sign books, show off scavenged stuff, and experience whatever else happens.

A Day Scavenging with the Authors of The Scavengers’ Manifesto

March 27, 2009 at 7:03 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

What’s it like to go out scavenging with the authors of The Scavengers’ Manifesto? A few days ago we took a stroll (we almost always scavenge on foot, because you can find more stuff that way) through the tree-lined streets of Albany and Berkeley, California. It was a typical scavenging excursion for us, except this time we brought a camera to immortalize our “treasure hunt” — a treasure hunt with no goal, in which we didn’t know what we were seeking until we found it. That’s the true spirit of scavenging, always: the magic of the random.

Would that hint of rain in the air hinder our adventure? Let’s see….

First stop: a garage sale. On most Saturday mornings before leaving the house, we survey garage-sale listings at Craigslist, marking the location of each sale on a map. Then we chart a route through town. (At the height of the garage-sale season, which in our area is May — right before school ends and summer starts — our typical Saturday route winds through neighboring towns as well.) Hmm, what’s in that box? We rummaged through it with no luck, though the sale-giver (on the right) tried to tempt us by drastically lowering prices, since she didn’t want to lug any of her stuff back into the garage.

We love it when folks place stuff on curbs bearing “FREE” signs. That makes things so welcoming and clear, and as a fellow scavenger once told us eagerly: “Free is the best price.” Wooden pallets, though. Traveling on foot, we couldn’t exactly carry them. And even if we could, what would we do with them? A reporter who interviewed us recently said that pallets are her favorite things to scavenge — that whenever and wherever she finds pallets, she pulls her car over and collects them. We left the pallets for the next scavenger. Hopefully, someone like that reporter happened along after we did and found them.

Why not scavenge entertainment, too? At the branch library, we borrowed some DVDs. Of course, you can’t go in with a preconceived notion of what you’ll end up watching, because the choice depends on what happens to be on the shelf when you get there. But the magic of the random expands your entertainment spectrum when you see films you might never have imagined seeing otherwise — and end up liking them. This time we lucked out with Knocked Up.

The first and foremost scavenging skill is vigilance. Keep your eyes open at all times because the more you see, the more you get. And the most important place to look is down. That’s how we spotted this extremely well-camouflaged dime on the sidewalk.

This vintage 78 rpm record turned up at another yard sale. On the label, its genre is listed as “Hillbilly.” You don’t see that un-PC term very often these days!

We passed another scavenger who was busy Dumpster-diving, but the Dumpsters did look very tempting so we decided not to join him.

This banner, a 1960s souvenir from a now-defunct Southern California amusement park, was pinned to a wall at an estate sale. The park’s mascots, “Oto Moto” and “Izzy Moto” looked like cavemen — another bizarre un-PC relic from a different cultural era.

A familiar copper glimmer caught our eyes in the dirt at the base of a streetside tree. As a rule, we always pick up pennies — because who in their right mind would just walk past perfectly good money just because it’s on the ground? Every cent adds up. On closer inspection, our find was a penny. But it had been processed into a souvenir of Alcatraz, the prison island in San Francisco Bay.

A few blocks further along, someone was giving away free paint, the leftovers from a home-improvement project. Because it’s usually illegal to throw away or dump paint (and other such chemicals), giving it to others who can use it is a great idea.

At yet another yard sale, the sellers set out a dish of “conversation hearts,” left over from Valentine’s Day. Time to scavenge a minty-sweet snack!

Many yard sales have a “free box” in the corner or on the curb. In this yard sale’s free box, we found a vintage Haitian record. It was free because it was cracked. But it’s still interesting and rare, so we took it.

At the next yard sale, we found an old Christmas card with this disturbing message written inside. “At the moment, I have a headache,” the writer begins. That’s perfectly reasonable, but a bit odd for a holiday greeting. “It’s only temporary,” the writer offers, then adds the slightly ominous “I hope.” The tone darkens farther with: “Don’t mind admitting I’m worried.” Eeek! Did the writer have a history of devastating headaches? Did headaches, for this writer, portend some devastating medical condition? Did that particular headache lead to … something worse? We’ll never know. Scavenging is an endless parade of history, sometimes very personal history, which keeps us learning and wondering.

It was a day of dimes!

Found on the ground, this bauble looked intriguing at first. But when we realized that it was just a zipper pull, we put it back — but placed it where it could be clearly spotted by some later scavengers, perhaps a homesick Chicagoan.

As evening fell, we made our way to this reception for an art exhibition in a university building. Its listing in online event calendars, which we had surveyed while planning our day, had specified that the reception was open to the public and that free refreshments would be served.

We piled our plates with free edibles. When you scavenge food, it’s ALWAYS “pot luck.” This time, we were lucky to find fresh fruit, even high-antioxidant blueberries. Those red things in the front that look like disembodied organs were actually delicious little wraps.

Home at last, we photographed a few more of the day’s yard- and estate-sale gleanings, including this 1920s sheet music. The language of romance has changed a bit since back then.

This sheet music is even older, evoking the sad but spirited ethos of World War I.

And this example was produced during the next world war, World War II. Our dads were soldiers during that war, so this find felt personal for us.

Art is one of our favorite things to scavenge. It’s such a matter of taste that what’s worthless to the seller or the discarder might look like a masterpiece to the scavenger. And who knows — one of these pieces might actually BE a masterpiece.

Well, that was a lovely round of scavenging. At a cost of $2 over the course of an entire day, we enriched our world with music, art, food, entertainment, intriguing historical ponderings, and more. We also saw a lot of things that we didn’t take — which our fellow scavengers hopefully found and enjoyed.

Scavenged Couch Comes With Surprise Stowaway

March 13, 2009 at 8:24 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A woman in Spokane, Washington went to the Value Village thrift store, bought a used couch for $27, and brought it home. She lived with the couch for several days before discovering…that a cat was living inside it:

Callie, the accidentally scavenged cat.

Callie, the scavenged cat.

The mysterious mewing in Vickie Mendenhall’s home started about the time she bought a used couch for $27. After days of searching for the source of the noise, she found a very hungry calico cat living in her sofa.

Her boyfriend, Chris Lund, was watching TV on Tuesday night and felt something move inside the couch. He pulled it away from the wall, lifted it up and there was the cat, which apparently crawled through a small hole on the underside.

Mendenhall contacted Value Village, where she bought the couch, but the store had no information on who donated it. So she took the cat to SpokAnimal CARE, the animal shelter where she works, so it could recover, and contacted media outlets in hopes of finding the owner.

Sure enough, Bob Killion of Spokane showed up to claim the cat on Thursday after an acquaintance alerted him to a TV story about it. Killion had donated a couch on Feb. 19, and his 9-year-old cat, Callie, disappeared at about the same time.

Scavenging often turns up unexpected treasures, but rarely are they alive.

More details, along with a video of the scavenged cat, at The Spokane Spokesman-Review.

Half Price Goes Green

March 11, 2009 at 8:52 am | Posted in News, Uncategorized | Leave a comment


windpowerHalf Price Books is going green. One of our favorite destinations for bargain-priced books, the nation’s largest family-owned new (but cheap!) and used bookstore chain announced on Monday that it is purchasing pollution-free wind energy for thirty stores and other facilities in its home state of Texas over the next three years. Planning to purchase about 11.3 million kilowatt-hours (kWh) of wind power a year, Half Price Books has been recognized by the US. Environmental Protection Agency as an EPA Green Power Partner for its leading green power purchase. 

By purchasing the wind power, Dallas-based Half Price will offset about 15 million pounds of carbon dioxide. That is the equivalent of planting 901,000 trees or recycling 6 million pounds of newspaper.

According to a company press release, Half Price “sponsors the Half Pint Library Book Drive at each of its stores, donating thousands of books to hospitals and clinics throughout the United States.” Free books for the needy. That’s good karma.

Thrift Shops Panic as Misguided New Law Bans Old Children’s Books

February 23, 2009 at 1:41 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

booksdumpsterA little-known federal law which came into effect on February 10 has banned the sale or distribution of any children’s book made before 1985. Yes, you read that right: It’s now illegal to sell old books which children might touch or read. 

You might be wondering: Why?

Well, according to the law, which is called the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008, or CPSIA for short, books made before 1985 might contain tiny of amounts of lead in the ink, and kids might chew on the pages and eat the lead. Therefore, old kids’ books are a health hazard.

And it’s not just limited to books: An alarmist article published in the Washington, D.C. City Journal (one of hundreds of similar alarmist articles published across the country) contains this disturbing passage:

Among its other provisions, CPSIA imposed tough new limits on lead in any products intended for use by children aged 12 or under, and made those limits retroactive: that is, goods manufactured before the law passed cannot be sold on the used market (even in garage sales or on eBay) if they don’t conform. The law has hit thrift stores particularly hard, since many children’s products have long included lead-containing (if harmless) components: zippers, snaps, and clasps on garments and backpacks; skateboards, bicycles, and countless other products containing metal alloy; rhinestones and beads in decorations; and so forth. Combine this measure with a new ban (also retroactive) on playthings and child-care articles that contain plastic-softening chemicals known as phthalates, and suddenly tens of millions of commonly encountered children’s items have become unlawful to resell, presumably destined for landfills when their owners discard them. Penalties under the law are strict and can include $100,000 fines and prison time, regardless of whether any child is harmed.

Consequently, some thrift stores have panicked, leading to scenes like the one described in this letter from an reader, reprinted in the City Journal article:

I just came back from my local thrift store with tears in my eyes! I watched as boxes and boxes of children’s books were thrown into the garbage! Today was the deadline and I just can’t believe it! Every book they had on the shelves prior to 1985 was destroyed!

While some blogs have speculated that the ban on old books in particular is a thinly veiled attempt at expunging any politically incorrect literature from our children’s consciousness — 1985 being the approximate historical moment when political correctness became nearly universal in kids’ books — a counter-backlash has now emerged of anti-alarmists claiming that the whole thing is overblown, and not to panic. The San Francisco Examiner, for example, just published “Stop! New law doesn’t require book burning,” which poo-poos the whole crisis, saying no one is burning any books.

However, the Examiner is setting up a straw-man argument, because no one’s claiming that the government is burning any books — only that some retailers and citizens are throwing old books away lest they be fined or imprisoned for poisoning children. But even the Examiner concedes at the end of their article,

CPSIA’s major provisions went into effect on February 10. Some used bookstore owners and resellers are worried about their livelihoods, and they have reason to be concerned. They could be forced into expensive testing or curtailing sales for a painfully long time.

No one, however, should be destroying books.

True, no one should be destroying books — but some people apparently are, out of fear.

What do you feel about the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008?

Welcome to the Scavenging Blog!

July 13, 2007 at 1:37 am | Posted in Adventures, Book excerpts, Celebrities, Deals, Finds, News, Philosophy, Pop culture, Recycling, Reviews, Tips, Uncategorized, Videos | 1 Comment

Are you a scavenger? We are. And we think there’s a lot more of us out there than anybody realizes.

Scavenging is the first and only blog devoted exclusively to the concept of the scavenger. And we’ll also explore the philosophy of scavenging as a lifestyle (or a hobby), and the critical role it plays in the world at large.

So send us your tales of scavenging, your greatest triumphs and most bitter regrets. And start thinking of yourself as a scavenger first, above all else.

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