Inside One Man's Quest to Grow and Forage 100% of His Food for an Entire Year

With no land of his own, Greenfield farms the front yards of his neighbors and shares the bounty with them.

Rob Greenfield is a man on many missions. He has biked barefoot across the country on a bicycle made out of bamboo, he lived a year without showering to promote water conservation, and most recently, he has been putting down deep roots (literally and figuratively) in Orlando, Florida.

This time around, it's an experiment in extreme sustainability; specifically, committing to only eating foods he grows himself or forages in the wild for an entire year.

Since December 2017, Greenfield has been based in Orlando, making connections within the food community, seeing what grows locally, and working on outside projects that involve planting gardens and fruit trees for others in the city.

He prepped for around 10 months for his Food Freedom project — gathering seeds, starting a greenhouse, and doing a deep exploration of Orlando's local permaculture. On Nov. 11, 2018, Greenfield posted his intent — in his humble tiny house nestled in an Orlando local's backyard — spelling out his extremely daunting goal: to grow or forage from the wild 100% of his food for an entire calendar year.

Front yard foraging

rob greenfield plants in neighbors front yard
After transforming the sandy soil with local mulch, Greenfield planted edible plants in many of his neighbor's front yards.

What exactly does that entail? It means no food from a grocery store or restaurant; no leftovers from a friend's dinner party; no shopping at a farmers market; and no accepting food as gifts from neighbors or friends.

In short, if Greenfield did not personally forage the food in the wild or harvest it from the sea or plant it from seed, it wouldn't be on his menu. Daunting, huh? For a full list of Greenfield's strict adherence to his year-long journey, check out his guidelines.

"When I went into this project, there was no failing," says Greenfield. "I wanted to see if it was possible to step away from our globalized, industrialized food system today, to step away from restaurants and grocery stores. I've never met anyone who has done it in a modern society, so I didn't know if it was possible because we are so far removed from our most basic resources."

Learning on the go

rob greenfield grabs fruit from a neighbors tree in orlando
Greenfield worked with the Orlando community to plant 200 fruit trees throughout the city.

He's right. If you think about everything that enters your mouth on a daily basis, from toothpaste to water to coffee to oils to salt, it seems nearly impossible to obtain these far-flung ingredients from our own backyard or a neighbor's yard. Greenfield either gave up those things he could not produce or found substitutions.

Before this project, Greenfield was no expert farmer. "I didn't know how to grow food. I had two small raised beds in San Diego where I grew a few herbs, tomatoes and greens."

Orlando might not be the first place that comes to mind when it comes to sustainability, but Greenfield saw things differently. "I wanted to live in a place where I could grow food year-round. That really limits where you can be in the U.S. That's why I chose Florida."

Greenfield had visited Orlando previously and connected with Orlando Permaculture, a 100+ group of farm-savvy people who get together monthly to exchange food, hold workshops and host cooking series. He was also impressed by the food forests found in many people's front yards, and the community of like-minded individuals who were active in the local food scene.

"Existence is a full-time job"

group of volunteers outside garden in orlando
Greenfield and volunteers also worked to plant front yard gardens in single-parent homes in Orlando as well. Rob Greenfield

No formal training happened in advance. "There's an amazing group of people in Orlando," Greenfield says. "I was able to plug in and learn. For the success of this project, I never walked into a grocery store. Just by talking to locals, I asked what grows easily, what won't die, what has the fewest pests, what will I be most successful growing?"

You might think this strict diet would lead to some very dull and monotonous meals, but on the contrary, Greenfield's list of foods he's grown and foraged is in the 100s, ranging from Seminole pumpkins to Southern peas to salt gathered straight from the ocean.

Greenfield's most adventurous meal might have been harvesting a deer fresh from roadkill. He was visiting family in his home state of Wisconsin, but still strictly adhering to his local harvesting and foraging routine. "Twenty thousand deer are hit by cars every year in Wisconsin," he says. "It's an extremely abundant resource."

Greenfield watched "a bunch of YouTube videos on how to harvest a deer" and soon found himself feeding deer stew to his mostly vegetarian family. "Everyone liked it," he adds.

Food freedom and sovereignty

rob greenfield prepares fresh foraged meal outside in orlando
'I'm doing something extreme because that's what catches media's attention,' says Greenfield. Rob Greenfield

The hardest part, Greenfield says, was probably not having enough oil when it came to cooking. He thought he'd be abundant in coconut oil from nearby coconut trees, but extracting the oil was laborious and often not fruitful. "Not having oil changes the way you cook completely," says Greenfield. No oil made cooking just a little less tasty, but his varied diet of nearly 300+ distinct foods and spices and herbs helped make up for it.

As his final day approaches on Nov. 10, Greenfield is both reflective and looking forward. He will be celebrating his last day with a "mostly local" potluck with friends and neighbors in Orlando before hitting the road for a year to travel and speak; after that comes a train-based book tour based on this year-long experiment.

"It was a huge undertaking, but it shows what other people can do in a year," Greenfield says. "If our communities could come together to try to grow some of own fruits and vegetables, that could change our entire food system."

In the end, Greenfield doesn't expect anyone to do what he did. "My goal is, I want people to question their food, their everything — where did this come from? What's its impact on humans? To the environment as a whole? I want people to ask these questions. If you don't like the answers, change that! Make your actions in alignment with your beliefs."