Rob Greenfield: A Life of Farming and Gathering

Greenfield is an American who has spent much of his 32-year life promoting important issues such as reducing food waste and recycling materials.

First, Greenfield found out which plant species did well in Florida by talking to local farmers, visiting public parks, attending themed classes, watching YouTube videos, and reading books about the local flora.

“At first, I had no idea how to grow anything at all in this area, but 10 months later I started growing and harvesting 100% of my food,” says Greenfield. “I just used local knowledge that already existed.”

Greenfield then had to find a place to live, since he doesn’t actually own land in Florida – and he doesn’t want to. Through social media, he reached out to the people of Orlando to find someone interested in letting him build a tiny house on his property. Lisa Ray, an herb expert with a passion for horticulture, volunteered for him a plot in her backyard, where Greenfield built his tiny, 9-square-foot repurposed house.

Inside a miniature space nestled between a futon and a small writing desk, floor-to-ceiling shelves are filled with a variety of homemade fermented foods (mango, banana and apple cider vinegars, honey wine, etc.), gourds, jars of honey (harvested from beehives, behind which Greenfield himself takes care), salt (boiled from ocean water), carefully dried and preserved herbs and other products. There is a small freezer in the corner full of peppers, mangoes, and other fruits and vegetables harvested from his garden and surroundings.

The small outside kitchen is equipped with a water filter and a camp stove-like device (but powered by biogas made from food waste), as well as barrels to collect rainwater. There is a simple composting toilet next to the house and a separate rainwater shower.

“What I do is pretty out of the box, and my goal is to wake people up,” says Greenfield. “The US has 5% of the world’s population and uses 25% of the world’s resources. Traveling through Bolivia and Peru, I have talked to people where quinoa used to be the main food source. But prices have gone up 15 times because westerners want to eat quinoa too, and now the locals can’t afford to buy it.”

“The target audience for my project is a privileged group of people who negatively affect the lives of other social groups, as in the case of the quinoa crop, which became unaffordable for the people of Bolivia and Peru,” says Greenfield, proud of not being driven by money. In fact, Greenfield’s total income was just $5000 last year.

“If someone has a fruit tree in their front yard and I see fruit falling to the ground, I always ask the owners for permission to pick it,” says Greenfield, who tries not to break the rules, always getting permission to collect food on private property. “And often I’m not just allowed to do it, but even asked – especially in cases of mangoes in South Florida in the summer.”

Greenfield also forages in some neighborhoods and parks in Orlando itself, although he knows this may be against city rules. “But I follow the rules of the Earth, not the rules of the city,” he says. Greenfield is sure that if everyone decided to treat food the way he did, the world would become much more sustainable and fair.

While Greenfield used to thrive on scavenging for food from dumpsters, he now lives exclusively on fresh produce, harvested or grown by himself. He doesn’t use any pre-packaged foods, so Greenfield spends most of his time preparing, cooking, fermenting, or freezing food.

The Greenfield lifestyle is an experiment on whether it is possible to lead a sustainable lifestyle in a time when the global food system has changed the way we think about food. Even Greenfield himself, who prior to this project relied on local grocery stores and farmers’ markets, is unsure of the end result.

“Before this project, there was no such thing as me eating exclusively grown or harvested food for at least a day,” says Greenfield. “It’s been 100 days and I already know this lifestyle is life changing – now I can grow and forage food and I know I can find food wherever I am.”

Greenfield hopes his project will help encourage society to eat natural, take care of their health and the planet, and strive for freedom.

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