Rob Greenfield is a self-described “adventurer, environmental activist, humanitarian and dude making a difference.” Since this Wisconsin native had an eco-epiphany at the age of 24, he’s dedicated himself to spreading a positive environmental message by accomplishing heroic, sustainable deeds. These include things like riding across the U.S. three times on a bamboo bicycle, diving into more than 2,000 dumpsters and traveling internationally with no money. Inhabitat caught up with this pro-humanity, anti-materialism activist to find out about his current foraging project. His answers have been edited for space.
Inhabitat: Tell us a little bit about your life right now — where you live and what you do in a typical day.
Greenfield: I currently live in Orlando, Florida. I’m spending two years there. My current project is to grow and forage 100 percent of my food for a year. So, no grocery stores, no restaurants. Not even a drink at a bar or going over to a friend’s potluck to eat food from there. Literally growing and foraging everything for an entire year.
It’s an extremely immersive project, where I’m diving deep into food and really understanding my connection to it. Largely removing myself from the globalized, industrialized food to explore the alternatives, ways of producing food that work with the environment instead of against it and showing those alternatives to people. My day-to-day right now is very food-oriented.
Inhabitat: What are your regular daily activities right now?
Greenfield: Well, it does vary a lot. Like today, for example, is a work day, so I’m on the computer and on the phone for much of the day. But I had mostly run out of food, so I had to delay my last call to go for a mile-and-a-half bike ride to go to an apple tree that I know about to go pick a bunch of apples. [Note: Greenfield was in Wisconsin visiting family and friends when we talked — hence the apple tree.]
So my life is very much revolving around food this year. But with that being said, I still manage to do a lot of other things, and of course have a social life, and still of course talk and spread the message, because that’s the purpose.
Some days are just morning to night going out and gathering food and then processing it, whether it’s fishing or going out and picking fruit and making applesauce and pear sauce, for example, or canning. Other days, when I’ve done really well, I’ve prepared lots of food, I get to be a little more leisurely, and do other work or just spend time with friends.
Inhabitat: When did you start your foraging project, and when will it end?
Greenfield: I started on November 11, 2018, so today is day 320, which means I have just 45 days left of the year [at the time of the interview]. So it is winding down. I’m in the home stretch, which is feeling great. I wouldn’t say I can let my guard down; I’ve still got to stay on top of things. But I could see a bar of chocolate in the near future.
Inhabitat: Is dumpster diving allowed?
Greenfield: No dumpster diving at all, because what I’m exploring for this year is living outside of the globalized, industrialized food system. Seeing if I can work with nature, work with the earth to produce my food. So dumpster diving, I’ve proved through my other projects in the past that I can live purely off the waste of our society, and really use that as a way to raise awareness about waste. This is taking it to another step. Now I can show that it’s possible in 2019 for us to actually grow and produce our food and improve our communities at the same time, and take power back from the big food corporations and put that power back into the hands of us, the everyday people.
Inhabitat: So, what are some of the things you forage?
Greenfield: So far this year, I’ve grown and foraged over 250 different species. I’ve probably foraged 30 or 40 different species of greens. Fruits. There’s many species of cherry: pin cherry, black cherry, sand cherry, just to name a few. Apples, pears, plums. Then, there’s all sorts of new plants that I’m learning. Aronia is a berry that I’ve been foraging over the last couple weeks in Wisconsin.
In Florida, one of my favorite things to forage is wild yams. That is an invasive species, so it’s actually beneficial for me to harvest it, which is always nice to be harvesting in a way that actually improves the environment. The biggest one I’ve harvested so far weighed 157 pounds. I had a wheelbarrow and I wheelbarrowed it out chunks at a time to the car to bring it back to my place.
I mostly chopped it up into cubes, like you cube up potatoes. Then I froze a lot of it. I make flour from it. I dehydrate it, and then blend the dehydrated chunks to make a powder, and that powder’s a yam flour. Then, I make bread with it. It’s actually a really nice bread. Well, it’s really nice for me. It’s not like a wheat bread or something like that that you’d buy at the store. But I make muffins and tortillas and things like that, and I make sourdough bread. It makes some pretty nice stuff.
This project has really taught me to do a lot of things from scratch. Because if I want something, I have to figure out how to grow it or forage it and turn it into that thing that I’m wanting. It’s the opposite of that globalized food system, where we can get anything we want without really having to think about it.
Inhabitat: What’s your living situation in Florida?
Greenfield: Well in Orlando, I live in a 100-square-foot tiny house that I built out of about 99 percent secondhand materials with the help of a bunch of friends. I have an outdoor kitchen set up, a compost toilet, rainwater shower. I do have electricity there to run my food processor and dehydrator and things like that. But it’s a largely close-looped system, demonstrating how you can live in a more sustainable manner.
Inhabitat: Do you have advice for anyone who wants to dumpster dive?
Greenfield: Well, it’s pretty easy. You look at the front door. You walk past that, you walk around to the back, you look in the dumpster and you get your food from there instead. It really is not hard or complicated. The main thing is you just have to do it. You have to go to the dumpster and you have to look for the food.
Then, what you do is you practice common sense. You should practice common sense wherever you’re getting your food from. So with dumpster diving, a lot of people have these preconceived notions about what’s in a dumpster and what it looks like. At a grocery store, it’s mostly food and is emptied fairly frequently. They’re actually a lot cleaner than people would expect. You just take out the good food.
An easy way to start is, for example, bananas have a wrapper on them already. Oranges, also. Whereas strawberries and raspberries, they’re more delicate and more likely to get something spilled on them. But a banana, you can take the peel right off. There’s also packaged, processed food. If you get a bag of potato chips, that is still sealed, or even crackers where there’s a box on the outside and then there’s the crackers inside a plastic bag inside the box. You can start there, with those easy things.
One note with dumpster diving is just to make sure that you always leave the place cleaner than you found it, and you’re courteous to everybody that you come across. [Greenfield reiterated that dumpster diving is not a part of his current project.]
Inhabitat: Do you have any tips for others to live more sustainably?
Greenfield: The good news is you don’t have to do these sort of huge projects that I do by any means. It’s all stuff we can adapt into our daily lives.
A big one is to go local. Support local business. Try to get as many of your products produced locally rather than things from big corporate stores and stuff that’s shipped around the world, where you don’t know the people and the impact that it has had or the conditions that they are working in. Shop at the local farmer’s market and support local farmers. Eat more unprocessed foods. You can bring your own container and fill up at the bulk food section. Riding a bike more and driving a car less is a really great way to not only save a lot of money and reduce your impact, but also get good exercise. Most people are a lot happier on a bike than they are driving a car. Bikes make people smile.
Eat your food. The average person wastes about 20 percent of all the food they purchase. Anything that can’t be eaten can be composted. There are hundreds of great changes that we can make. But those are some that are at the top of my list that generally make you happier, healthier and help you live in a way that’s more sustainable.
Inhabitat: How can Inhabitat followers get involved with your work?
Greenfield: Get involved in other things like community projects, such as the Community Fruit Trees project. That is a project where you can plant fruit trees that are publicly accessible to anyone in their community. Gardens for the People, which is where we build gardens for people that wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford it or build one on their own. The Free Seed Project is where we send out free seeds to help people start their own organic, healthy gardens.
The mission is to get people living happier, healthier and more sustainable lives. We think food is a great place to start. These are all ways people can get involved, and they’d find information about those projects on my website.
Images via Rob Greenfield and Sierra Ford