Anderson in a Paul Mitchell ad. Photo: Anthony Anderson
Can being beautiful help promote a sustainable lifestyle? Living in a self-proclaimed dichotomy between the fashion world and sustainable living, dumpster diving and wild food forager Anthony Anderson uses his male modeling career to supplement his mission to live sustainably, launch an organic chocolate company, and plant food forests.Anderson founded Blackbird Naturals, makers of raw chocolate, organic body butter and organic superfood seeds, earlier this year with mother-daughter duo Andrea and Alexandra Maw. While Blackbird Naturals is not a non-profit, all proceeds go towards replanting food forests through the company's Organic Garden Project. Food forests, or permaculture forest gardens, mimic the architecture of a natural forest and are designed and managed ecosystems rich in biodiversity and productivity.
When he's not appearing in ad campaigns for Target, Tommy Hilfiger, Macy's and Paul Mitchell, Anderson is writing about his transition from a vegan-to-raw diet at RawModel.com.
TreeHugger: Let's start from the beginning. How did you get from modeling in New York to starting Blackbird Naturals in Arizona, then back to your hometown in Minnesota to plant a food forest?
Anthony Anderson: After about six years in New York, I felt it was time for a change. I was living on the corner of Court and Atlantic in Brooklyn and it was sirens, sirens 24-7; the economy slowed in 2008-2009 and I felt the timing for Arizona was perfect--and after a few January days with [Blackbird Naturals co-founder] Alexandra in 70 degree fahrenheit weather, I was sold.
Anderson with Blackbird Naturals co-founder Alexandra Maw. Photo: Anthony Anderson
I was still able to spend time working in NYC, but when Blackbird formed in late February I was basically in Arizona except for day jobs and working in the garden in Minnesota. Luckily, I started the food forest in Minnesota three summers ago so it's more of a maintenance thing now...I am always expanding it now: Ducks and guinea hens might be coming this summer and I'm always planting more and more native berry bushes around the property.
Model Anthony Anderson with fresh basil in Arizona. Photo: Anthony Anderson
TH: You once told me a story about how you were dumpster diving for food while your face was on a billboard in Times Square. It certainly demystifies the image models portray. Can you share that story with our readers?
AA: Some know this, but many don't: When starting out as a model, the money is really bad for a while. You have to either do something else or just focus 100% on going to castings and to the gym.
I was working in Paris and Milan for a year so I really had no other option than to live on the cheap; the dumpster diving came in late 2004 when I moved to NYC and made a connection with a produce guy in the East Village. I'd get some extra goodies from him but I still had to go through the bags on the sidewalk with my headlamp on. (I don't think I would have tried this as much if I wasn't single at the time!)
Anderson in reFRESH Magazine, March 2005. Photo: Anthony Anderson
I started bringing home loads of organic produce, leafy greens, fruit, and even expired organic supplements and superfoods. I started making green smoothies and green juice to be more efficient about all the free groceries. I had 4-5 other models living in the model apartment with me and I'd come home at 10pm with bags of vegetables; then I would stay up another 2-3 hours washing and juicing everything with headphones on, listening to interviews or audio books.
The Raw Food Diet Meant a Sustained HighI got so high on the greens. It wasn't like anything I'd felt before. It was a sustained high. My sleep was even cut in half; I would be completely awake at 6am after sleeping 4-5 hours.
Anderson planting goji berries. Photo: Anthony Anderson
No matter what success came later, I was totally sold on the lifestyle. When I started booking jobs that paid me $5,000 a day, I already had my goals of building the eco-village in place and I knew that all the good organic produce [from dumpster diving] would have just gone to waste, so I continued that habit for quite a few years.
Sometimes I spent $10 for one month of groceries because everything else I dumpster-dived and wild-foraged from Central Park. (That was a lonely month. Haha.) But I had my eye on the prize and no matter what jobs came later, I had to keep saving and thinking about planting the food forest.
Anderson speaking at Whole Foods. Photo: Anthony Anderson
Modeling was a means to an end: It gave me time to study and read, and enabled me to plant my food forest. I don't know if I would have gotten to this point in my life if I hadn't had the free time modeling gave me.
TH: How did Blackbird Naturals get it's name? Is it named after the eponymous song by Paul McCartney?
AA: Alexandra has always been a big Beatles fan, especially John Lennon; he always stood up against tyranny more than any other well-known musician. In my opinion, he advanced the collective consciousness of the Western world, at the very least. Blackbird is devoted to using our profits for direct change in our communities and we hope John would be proud of what we are fighting for.
Sampling Blackbird Truffles at Oakville Grocery in Scottsdale, AZ. Video: Blackbird Naturals
TH: Blackbird Naturals continues to grow, what do you credit the success to?
AA: It's in our message; that is where the success is. Our supporters see from our YouTube video and blog posts that we are using our profits to get out in the community and get people into planting food forests in their own backyards for their kids and their entire family.
Recreating paradise on earth in our own yard is the quickest way we can create change.
Blackbird Naturals organic superfood seeds. Photo: Blackbird Naturals
TH: You recently came out with organic wild seeds for gardens and food forests. Where do you source the seeds?
AA: The seeds come from reputable organic growers and harvesters in Oregon and we are supplementing the collection with varieties we find in the wild.
TH: What is on the horizon for Blackbird?
AA: We are all about the cleanest products possible. Organic beauty care is doing so well, and so we have decided to release a body butter along with a lip salve.
Our seeds are doing wonderfully, and we are going to keep our truffles at limited release with existing retailers and online; they are just so time consuming and we want to focus on events, seeds, and writing. We will continue planting more food forests and producing videos and online content. Today, we got our first egg from our hens in Arizona--all the hard work is paying off!
Anderson's food forest in Minnesota. Photo: Anthony Anderson
TH: Is there anything else you'd like to share with our readers?
AA: We didn't want to start a non-profit and have to ask people for money without necessarily giving anything back. With Blackbird Naturals, we provide a product and use all the profits towards what we feel is the overall solution: a family food forest.
We can replant the Garden of Eden. We don't have to shrug our shoulders and accept some lame history; we can rebuild Heaven on Earth, yard by yard...I've come to realize that no matter who is in "power" they are not going to create the world we were meant to have: living in a forest garden with everything we need at our fingertips and no cares in the world.
If people want to continue to work they can, but in this paradigm all the essentials are provided for...clean food, water, housing and public transportation...
It's a shame our system isn't designed this way; it could be so much more abundant. Growing your own food is a huge step in personal liberation and by making it sexy and showing that it is indeed cool to raise chickens and plant fruit trees, we can help shift the conscious into a more productive and abundant lifestyle.
More: Blackbird Naturals