In 2011 I was living a pretty typical life, very focused on money, material possessions and my ego. But then I started to watch a bunch of documentaries and read a lot of books and realized that the American Dream I was pursuing was actually the American Nightmare for most of the world. Nearly every one of my actions from the food that I was eating, to the car I was driving, to the trash I was creating and even the water I was drinking was causing destruction to the people, species and world that I loved so much. I was only 25 and I decided I wasn't going to be a hypocrite for the decades I had left on Earth. I decided to radically transform my life one step at a time. Once I felt like I had reduced my hypocrisy to a reasonable level then I decided I wanted to lead by example and show people another way and let them know there's an option to live in balance with the earth and other species. As an activist I take things to the extreme to create a counterbalance to extreme Western consumerism and raise a ruckus in the media. I do extreme things, but my message is one of common sense and moderation.
While I was awaking to the problems of the world, I realized that so much of our current situation is in part because of the destruction of our current globalized, industrialized food system. I realized that every bite of food I was taking was consuming the planet. Since then the food on my plate has never been the same. I've been exploring food for nearly a decade now and since the beginning I've had the burning question, would it be possible to step away from the globalized food system? Could I exist without grocery stores and restaurants? Nothing packaged or processed? Nothing shipping long distances? Could I grow and forage everything I ate for an entire year? I really wanted to know on a personal level.
At the same time, I want others to question their food. Where does it come from? How does it get to them? How did it impact the earth, other species and the people that grew it? And if they don’t like the answers they find, I want to empower and inspire them to change the answers by shifting their diet. By embarking on this quest, my mission is for other people to learn as they follow along - learn the problems and learn the solutions - and then adopt the solutions into their lives.
I chose Florida for the year-round growing season and also because I personally prefer to live in warm climates. I grew up in Northern Wisconsin and I've had enough frigid winters for now. It's ironic because people from temperate climates say that I could only do this in Florida and most of the people in Florida told me that you can't grow food there because of the heat, pests and poor soil (it's basically just sand with very little nutrients). As far as that goes, my message isn't that we all need to grow and forage 100% of our food. It's really a message of moderation, of working with nature rather than against it and working within the environments that we call home.
I spent 40-80 hours in the average week between gardening, foraging, processing and preserving foods, cooking, eating and cleaning dishes. It was extremely challenging and time consuming. I spent a lot of time at home, when I wanted to be out free from the responsibilities of my own food. Of course it was all worth it though.
I grew dozens different greens packed with nutrients. Moringa, katuk, chaya, purslane, collards, kale and perennial spinaches just to name a few. I grew sweet potatoes, cassava and yams for my main caloric needs, pigeon peas and Southern peas for protein and delicious fruits like papayas and bananas. I grew many vegetables including Seminole pumpkins, carrots and eggplant. And of course garlic, onion, peppers and many herbs to add flavor and health to all of my meals. Honey from my bees satiated my sweet tooth and was used for fermenting beverages and making medicine. I grew about 100 different foods and I've listed them all on my website: http://robgreenfield.tv/foodfreedomfoods/
I had six small gardens through out my neighborhood. Two of them were full front yards that I was very active in and the other four plots were small sections of a yard were I just had some staples like yuca, sweet potato and perennial greens.
When I started this project I was very intentional to not walk down the grocery store aisles and decide what I'd grow based on what I liked to buy there. Instead I talked to dozens of locals and I asked them what grows so well and so abundantly that it's hard to fail. I focused on plants with minimal pests, that could handle extreme fluctuations in weather, and needed very little care from me. Some of those were not nutrient dense, such as yuca and yams, but they were designed as my calorie source, which is not typically the source of nutrients. Moringa, katuk, chaya and other perennial greens were both very productive and easy to grow, while being some of the more nutrient dense foods on Earth.
I foraged about 200 different foods and I have written out each one on my website: www.robgreenfield.tv/foodfreedomfoods
I harvested giant, invasive yams from the woods, picked coconuts at the beach to make coconut milk, butter and coconut curries. I foraged from fruit trees in the wild, growing in public parks and in the city where I found the bounty falling onto the sidewalks. I caught fish from the ocean, lakes and rivers and even harvested numerous deer that had been hit by cars during my visit to Wisconsin. I harvested over 20 species of mushrooms in the woods. I picked nutritious plants called weeds that most people walk by unknowingly or even constantly battle with in their yards and gardens. My caffeine came from the native yaupon holly tree that grows in the forests and cities of Florida. I harvested my own sea salt from the ocean, simply by boiling the water down until I just had a pot of salt. I also made honey wine, jun (like kombucha but with honey), many herbal teas, fruit scrap vinegars, golden milk, coconut milk, fruit juice and smoothies.
I had done extensive research prior and knew exactly what I needed to do to make this year work. I didn't know most of the plants exactly, but I had the resources all figured out to learn and had the general framework figured out for the most important foods to make it through the year.
Foraging was not technically legal in many of the places that I foraged, but it was barely even an after thought for me. First and foremost I follow Earth Code. As long as I am living in service to Earth, my community and other species then I am happy. Some laws need to be broken. I respect laws that truly protect our resources, but of course most laws exploit our resources rather than protect them.
It's tough to say what the ratio between grown food and foraged foods was, it varied throughout the seasons. It may have been 50/50. It also depends on how I am calculating it, whether it be total calories, volume, etc. It's safe to say that both foraging and growing were equally important to the success of this project and I couldn't have done just one or the other.
Overall the challenge really went according to plan. It was undoubtedly extremely challenging, but only as much as expected. The easiest thing may have been raising perennial crops that are so resilient. Crops like yuca/cassava, katuk, moringa, and chaya have so few pests and need so little nutrients and water. I spread those throughout the neighborhood and they were always producing a bounty of food for me.
The hardest part may have been putting together all of the pieces. Most elements of the project were not that hard on their own, but to do it all is a whole different story. I had to grow and forage every calorie, all the vitamins and minerals, all the fat and protein and even my own medicine. That's a lot of knowledge and a lot of work. If I had been doing this for years already, it would have been a lot easier, but I was also figuring this all out as I was going.
My favorite meal to make was a green papaya coconut curry. I foraged for coconuts and made coconut milk for the base. Green papaya was a staple and I used whatever fresh veggies I had in my garden such as Seminole pumpkin, sweet potato and eggplant along with fresh greens. The salt came from harvesting salt water from the Atlantic ocean. The herbs were a combination of fresh herbs from my garden and dried herbs including coriander, holy basil, red pepper, curry tree plant and more. I could eat that meal almost every day!
I did not become bored of foods since I had great diversity. I grew and foraged 300 different foods. But it was very important to cook food that tasted good because when it didn't taste good it was hard to keep going. I didn't miss any particular food very much but I did miss convenience on many occasions. Oil is a food that I was not successful at producing enough of and that was difficult to cook with out at times.
When I arrived in Florida I had grown very minimal food. As a traveler, I was rarely in one place long enough to really grow very much food. In San Diego I had a couple raised beds where I grew some greens, herbs and tomatoes. So, when I got to Florida I was starting off as a beginner. I had to research the basics of seeds, soil, sunlight and water and was pretty clueless. It was a massive challenge and absolutely a big change. I was so used to being able to go where I wanted, when I wanted. Now I had thousands of plants to take care of.
I embarked on this journey alone in a sense. I was the only person growing and foraging all of my food. But the only reason I am standing here today, after a successful year, is because of the community that both came before me and existed around me. Every food that nourished me was taught to me by successful foragers and food growers. All of my seeds and plants came from local nurseries, seed companies and friends who shared the bounty of their plants. Books, websites, videos, local meet up groups, people who let me turn their front yard into a garden, volunteers who worked in my gardens with me... This truly was a community project and that's my real message. We don't have to do it all. With community we can do it more efficiently, have more leisure time, enjoy life and support each other in times of need. It's all about community food sovereignty. And today we need our local communities to work together as a global community, because we live on a tiny little rock together that we call planet Earth.
This project wasn’t just about growing and foraging all my food. It was about empowering others to grow their own to and take back their health. During this year, along with my team and volunteers, we built gardens for 15 other people through my Gardens for the People program, planted over 200 Community Fruit Trees, sent out over 5,000 seed packs to help people grow their own organic, healthy food and I taught free gardening classes to hundreds of people in my community. It's safe to say that hundreds or thousands of people are growing food for the first time or more food because of this project. Equally importantly I've heard feedback from many people of their shift in mentality. They've realized food is a human right and doesn't have to come from the grocery store. it can be growing feely and abundantly all around. And many people who were already well on their way to Food Freedom have been inspired to take it a step further by growing more food and sharing it with their communities.
For more on Rob's challenge visit his YouTube channel: www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLHrhas5pE0W47hLTW9N5bu5R42n9UeHzx
To learn more about Rob find him at:
Dude Making a Difference www.RobGreenfield.tv
Learn to grow your own:
No Dig Organic Home and Garden by Charles Dowding and Stephanie Haffery
Edible Paradise by Vera Greutink