Eight years ago, Rob Greenfield was struck by the reality that all the food he was eating contributed to the profits of large-scale industrial agriculture.
“I woke up to our food system,” he says. “Every bite of food that I was taking was causing destruction to the world.”
Greenfield says that, for many years, he bought the cheapest food he could find at big-box grocery stores and wasn’t thinking about what he was putting into his body. He used to own his own marketing firm and had plans to be a millionaire by the age of 30. He only thought about food in terms of its price.
But, eventually, Greenfield says a number of films and books he consumed about the food system began to weigh on him. And he decided to make some changes in his life.
Last year, he stepped away from the traditional food system and became entirely self-sufficient. He wanted to answer a lingering question: Can you grow and forage 100 percent of your own food? Starting in November, 2018, he did just that for a whole year.
He decided to live in Orlando, Florida, during that year—because of the area’s long growing season—in a 100-square-foot house, located in his friend’s backyard. Greenfield grew his food on neighbors’ front yards and let them eat whatever produce they wanted. He thought this would help restore a connection to food he believes has been lost.
“Food has been made and turned into a commodity, and it just turns into dollars and cents on a spreadsheet instead of the life-giving substance that it already is,” he says.
Greenfield says his daily workload during that year varied, but he would typically spend 40 to 80 hours a week foraging or growing food. He sought the help of local farmers, gardeners and food foragers to learn what grew best in each season.
He also decided to take his project a step farther than providing fresh produce for himself and his neighbors by launching a program called Gardens for the People. The project built gardens for low-income homes in Orlando and Central Florida, whose occupants otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford fresh food. He also started The Free Seed Project that has sent out 5,000 free seed packs to help people across the country grow their own organic gardens.
In Orlando, he planted more than 200 community fruit trees that are publicly available for anyone to take from and taught free gardening classes to teach people how to grow their own food.
He says that while the experience of growing and foraging his own food was challenging, he wants others to know it’s possible to become completely self-sufficient. “I felt happier; I feel happier and healthier than when I started,” he says. “To me, in itself (it) is pretty beautiful proof that I didn’t just survive—I felt that I thrived.”
The next stage in his food journey is already under way. This week, he set off on a year-and-a-half-long trip around the world. Greenfield says he’ll be speaking to people about his experiences and visiting places that are providing solutions to food system problems. Even though he’ll be hopping from location to location, Greenfield says he’ll continue to source his food locally, wherever he might be.