KHIMKI, U.S.S.R. (AP) _ Moscow music teacher Irina Mikitko got a tip from a friend: There is a bounty outside town. Fields that supposedly have been harvested are still fat with food.

''Our farmers are lazy. It is a pity,'' she said, hauling 30 pounds of carrots on a two-wheeled cart across a muddy, rutted expanse known as the Path of Communism collective farm.

Mrs. Mikitko is one of hundreds of average people who have been getting off work each evening, catching a bus to the outskirts of town and foraging fields now abandoned by farmworkers, who are completing their usual half-hearted stab at bringing in the crop.

During the balmy weekend, the Path of Communism carrot field was overflowing with Muscovites lured by word of the lavish leftovers at the field 18 miles northwest of Moscow.

Bus drivers approaching the stop at the field's edge would spot scores of weary, waiting people carrying produce - and refuse to stop, said Mrs. Mikitko.

''There were thousands of people here. Thousands of people with bags,'' said the 67-year-old singing instructor as she trudged to the bus stop in the darkness Monday evening, one of hundreds still foraging.

Ramshackle harvesting equipment and a lack of initiative by clock-watching collective workers are a couple of reasons why Moscow stores are almost empty, why basic commodities are scarce, why Western nations are planning to send billions of dollars in food aid this winter.

Leonid Grigoriev of Moscow's Institute of World Economy, speaking in Washington recently, said Soviet farm collectives ''lose up to half the vegetables'' through waste and inefficiency.

The reluctance of republics to ship their goods across their borders, and the increasing number of farms holding their products off the market while waiting for prices to rise, have compounded the problem.

Theft is a widespread problem, too. More than a thousand people were caught in August alone for filching more than 53 tons of vegetables, Soviet media recently reported.

The collective is Marxism's most powerful symbol, and the most entrenched. When East Germany became a free market prior to unification, breaking up the Soviet-style collectives was, and remains, the most challenging aspect of transition.

Workers have specific jobs, such as feed mixers or cow milkers. The collectives usually employ three or four times as many people as they need. They are run as factories.

Many collective workers do not want to take up the challenge of becoming a private farmer. Collective workers have regular hours, government medical and retirement benefits, and guaranteed paychecks. In the Soviet Union, farm workers make about twice the average salary.

There is little initiative and a lot of waste. In the new era of openness and food shortages, it did not take city-dwelling Soviets long to figure these things out.

''Three carrots cost 3 rubles,'' said Alexander Korolov, 21, as he hefted two bulging burlap bags of carrots across his shoulders and headed for the bus stop. ''Here it is free.

''All these people here are trying to put something away for the winter,'' he said, gesturing to the families, men in suits, women in makeup and young professionals picking carrots.

Last year, engineer Galina Proskurina, 55, and several co-workers came to the Path of Communism field to pick potatoes. During the weekend, they visited a nearby cabbage field, but workers ''did not consider it to be picked yet.''

''When they consider it picked, there will be a lot of cabbage left,'' she said. ''At every field it is the same.''

She doesn't consider her bag of carrots to be stolen goods.

''We are protecting the harvest from spoilage,'' she laughed. ''We take pity on this harvest and will not let it be destroyed. Now, the field is quite clean.''