FAMILIES could save money by being more aware of the free food growing all around them, says a community gardener.

Julieanne Porter, who helps run Barracks Lane Community Garden, off Cowley Road, East Oxford, said the city’s trees and hedgerows were bursting with fruit, nuts and seeds at this time of year.

She also said orchard owners, home gardeners and allotment holders often had a glut of produce, which people should be encouraged to swap.

It comes as the Oxford Mail revealed last week that the cost of basic groceries in the city has soared by more than five per cent in two years.

In May 2007, our shopping basket cost £30.93, which had risen to £35.47 by October 2008.

And in our shop earlier this month, it cost a grand total of £37.29 – nearly £2 more.

On Saturday, families headed to a Harvest Festival and Fruit and Vegetable Swap at the East Oxford garden.

People exchanged apples for courgettes and grapes for French beans, determined not to waste the fruits of their bumper season. Others brought mincemeat to use as the festive period approaches, and made juice with an apple press.

Miss Porter, who came up with the idea of the swap, said: “It can help save money. I brought some garlic that I’ve grown and people were interested in that. The swap was the nice thing. I had heaps of tomatoes and carrots, so to get some damson jam was brilliant.

“People were thinking about the food all around us that we can use and share.

“I’m doing a permaculture course at the moment and we did some foraging recently. Not far from the garden, there were so many things you can pick. There is quite a lot around us that you can take because it’s just growing there.

“It’s the kind of thing we want to do more of this year at the garden, to raise awareness.

“We need an outlet where people can share their harvest if they have a glut of a particular item.”

Sue Smith, who lives off Weirs Lane, Oxford, brought a big bag of blackberries to the event, having found the fruit growing by the river.

She said: “The thing I love about this country is the change in the seasons. We picked up some grapes with the leaves still on that you don’t get in the shop – they were really sweet – and we also picked up some tomatoes and beans.”

For information about the garden, email barrackslanegarden@yahoo.co.uk or call 01865 236 088.