Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Live off the land – in a major US city

Live off the land – in a major US city

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Rob Greenfield, a US environmentalist with a passion for inspiring people to live more sustainably, samples katuk, a leaf vegetable he has grown in a home garden, on Monday in Orlando, Florida. GREGG NEWTON/AFP

Live off the land – in a major US city

Rob Greenfield needs a lift. He often does, as he doesn’t own a car. Ride sharing is one of the many ways in which he tries to reduce his carbon footprint – but the other is more extreme.

For the past year, he hasn’t spent a cent on food.

He only eats what he can grow in his own garden or nearby gardens, what he can fish for – or what he can peel off the highway. Yes, roadkill is an option for the 33-year-old Greenfield. He’s an urban forager.

“Nature has been my garden, has been my pantry and it’s been my pharmacy,” explains the environmental activist, whose one-year challenge to eat only what he can find himself ends on Sunday.

Greenfield launched the project in Orlando, the theme park capital of the world in central Florida.

The greater metropolitan area is home to around 2.5 million people.

It seems like an unusual place to hunt and gather, but the subtropical climate has helped him offset the urban setting.

“For the last year, I’ve been growing and foraging 100 per cent of my food – no grocery stores, no restaurants, no beer at a bar,” Greenfield says.

“I want to inspire people to question their food and then to change their diets, to start to grow their own food, to support local farmers and eat in a way that is better for the Earth, our communities and ourselves.”

He’s been living in a tiny home in someone else’s backyard – the owners said he could squat there for the purposes of the project. He’s usually barefoot and wears the clothes he’s often seen in on YouTube, where’s he documented his year of foraging.

“I think that the human body developed really well over tens of thousands of years and I don’t believe that Nike has got it all figured out in the last blink of the eye of the human experience,” he says.

Greenfield has transformed the yard into an urban farm – papayas, bananas, sweet potatoes, eggplant, cucumbers and peppers are all thriving.

He put together an open-air kitchen of sorts, where he keeps his provisions and the honey he produces himself from four honeycombs.

He’s also built a toilet al fresco – and uses leaves for toilet paper, explaining: “This is softer than anything you can buy at the store.”

The simple life

During the interview, he feasts on a bowl of venison, sauerkraut, green papaya, turmeric, red pepper, coriander, garlic, dill and sea salt, cooked in coconut milk. His breakfast is capped with some moringa leaves, which had numerous medicinal uses.

Greenfield found the dead deer on a road in his native Wisconsin, where he spent his summer vacation.

And the salt? “I go to the ocean and I collect the saltwater from the ocean. I just fill up a jar or a jug and then I put that onto a stove to boil it down. That makes good sea salt.”

Greenfield says that he first made the decision to live more “simply” in 2011.

Up until then, he says, he was living what he called a “pretty typical American life”. His goal – “To be a millionaire by the time I was 30.”

In 2014, he dissolved his marketing company.

He first earned public attention in 2016, when he walked through New York wearing all of the garbage he produced – an effort to call attention to the huge amount of waste generated by Americans.

After that, he decided to start his experiment in urban foraging, to cast a spotlight on the possibilities of sustainable living.

He lives off public speaking fees and proceeds from his books, though he usually offers talks for free. This year so far, he has earned just $9,760. In 2018, the total was $8,000.

Both are well below the poverty level of about $13,000 for an individual living alone.

“For me, this is about deeply exploring my food and understanding it and at the same time taking people along on this journey,” Greenfield says.

He says he donates most of what he earns to non-profit organisations – despite a fair bit of media coverage of his story, he says he wants to avoid getting rich from his projects.

“It’s about the message, and I don’t think I should get wealthy off of the message of helping others,” he says.

“I’ve created a system to help myself not ever lose those good intentions. I believe in living humbly and I don’t think it would be easy to live humbly with a lot of money.”

Once he’s finished on Sunday, Greenfield is not sure what comes next – for now, he’s planning on traveling around the world.

MOST VIEWED

  • Rainsy stopped in Paris from boarding Thai flight

    Airline officials at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport on Thursday prevented Sam Rainsy from boarding his flight to Bangkok ahead of his announced return to Cambodia on Saturday. Prime Minister Hun Sen had earlier in the day assured Phnom Penh residents that there would be

  • Analyst: Rainsy blocked from boarding flight 'an excuse'

    THAI Airways not allowing Sam Rainsy on its route from Paris to Bangkok on Thursday is being used as an excuse to keep his standing among fellow coup plotters and his uninformed supporters as flights to non-Asean countries are available, an analyst said on Friday.

  • Rainsy lands in Malaysia

    Cambodian opposition figure Sam Rainsy arrived in Kuala Lumpur airport on Saturday afternoon after boarding a flight from Paris, where he has been living for more than four years. Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation spokesperson Koy Kuong said on Saturday that Cambodia respected

  • Touch: Rainsy will never return

    Sam Rainsy, the “acting president” of the Supreme Court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), has claimed it has achieved 70 per cent of its struggle to find a solution to the current political situation in the Kingdom. Just before boarding a plane at Charles de Gaulle

  • Sokha continues call for dropping of charge after bail conditions reduced

    Not satisfied with having his bail conditions reduced, allowing him to travel freely in Cambodia, Kem Sokha says he wants his charge totally dropped. “As an innocent man who has been in detention for two years even without being found guilty, I continue to demand

  • MEPs' call for Rainsy's safety not European Parliament position

    The European Parliament said on Friday that a statement by 56 Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) calling for guarantees of Sam Rainsy’s freedom and safety should he return to Cambodia did not represent its position. Delphine Colard, the European Parliament’s press officer told