How Rob Greenfield Grew or Foraged 100% of His Food for a Year
Are you interested in growing your own food? Do you want to better understand where your food comes from? Are you concerned about the negative consequences of factory farming? Are you an experienced gardener interested in new crop possibilities? Or are you interested in sustainability and how you might be able to live in a more sustainable, self-reliant way?
If you said "Yes" to any of the above, you need to meet Rob Greenfield.
Rob is the real deal. He is one of the most influential environmental activists in the world. He has been featured on thousands of media outlets including National Geographic, BBC, CBS This Morning, Discovery Channel, USA Today, LA Times, The Guardian, Huffington Post and more. He has dedicated his life to "leading the way to a more sustainable and just world."
In 2017 he moved to Orlando to embark on his "food independence" project to grow and forage 100% of his food for a year.
Below is a summary from our notes on Rob's presentation given at an Orlando Permaculture Meetup on Nov. 12, 2019. Rob had just completed his food independence project.
We found Rob's presentation both fascinating and inspiring. His mission of separating himself from the industrial food system is right line with our mission at Pasture Brothers to create such independence from the same system for ourselves and our community.
In the summary below, you will learn how Rob turned his yard into a garden and how you can too, what types of food Rob ate, what crops he'd recommend others grow and why, how he prepared for the project, how he overcame hard times, and what resources he leaned on the most and would recommend to others.
Links are also provided to his suggested outside resources.
The full presentation was recorded and will be made available on the Rob Greenfield Facebook page. There's certainly more info packed into the talk than we were able to takes notes on but we were able to capture quite a bit. Without further ado...
Rob had very little experience growing food prior to starting the project. He had done some raised beds and potted plants with mild success. He started visiting education centers like Sustainable Kashi, and HEART, local farms and nurseries, attending meetups like Orlando Permaculture and talking to local growers, doing plant walks with local experts, doing workshops, and reading books and researching online.
Why did Rob choose Orlando as his home for the project? He had spent time in Orlando and felt very welcomed by the community, especially in the Audubon park neighborhood. He thought he could make a bigger impact in Orlando than somewhere like Berkeley, CA because Orlando is known to be less progressive but is evolving more in that direction.
From a practical standpoint, Rob also recognized the year-round growing season Orlando offered and the diversity of foods that could be grown thanks to the subtropical climate.
Where did Rob live and setup his gardens? He lived in a tiny house constructed in a friend's suburban backyard. In exchange for allowing him to live there, Rob provided the service of turning the friend's yard into a "food jungle," with a huge variety of edible crops. A handful of other neighbors also allowed him to garden on their properties.
Rob spent about 10 months prepping for the project. He originally planned on taking about 6 months but decided he needed a bit more time.
Grew over 300 foods over the course of the year
- 100 grown in garden
- 200 foraged
How to turn your yard into a garden:
All you need are these six ingredients:
1. Carboard - Lay it on top of grass to suppress further growth. Easy to find for free in trash outside local appliance stores, department stores, liquor stores, etc... Remove tape. Try not to use super colorful cardboard.
2. Mulch - Layered on top of cardboard, recommends 6-8 inches. Can get for free from landscape companies who grind it up and then want to dump it as a waste product, or can sometimes get for free from getchipdrop.com.
3. Compost/soil - Dump on top of mulch. Rob used mushroom compost as his soil or growing medium. Rob got his mushroom compost from local mushroom farm for very cheap.
4. Water - Rain and irrigation
5. Light - Try to get full sun
6. Plants - This is your food!
Plants can come from seeds, cuttings, or seedlings.
Where to get seeds:
Local to Central Florida:
National seed suppliers:
- Southern Exposure Seed Exchange
- Johnny's Selected Seeds
- Seed Saver's Exchange
- Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds
- High Mowing Seeds
- Seeds of Change
You can also exchange or purchase plants, seeds, cuttings, or seedlings at local meetups such as Orlando Permaculture. Rob's recommended nurseries to find and purchase plants can be found at bottom of this page.
What Rob Ate and Why
One of Rob's biggest challenges was meeting his caloric needs. He overcame the lack of grains by relying on tubers eg sweet potatoes.
- Biggest sweet potato Rob grew and ate was over 5 lbs
- Both the potato and the greens are edible, making sweet potato very efficient crop
Another calorically dense crop Rob found easy to grow was cassava.
Rob also foraged wild yams in local forests and more urban areas such as parks near golf courses. The biggest wild yam he found was over 150 lbs!
- Can be eaten green, can ferment into kraut
- Trees produces tons of food. Rob estimates he only ate 5% of the food his papaya trees produced over the course of the year.
- Bananas can be dried, fried, and used to make flour
- Uses: milk, meat, dried, pressed for oil, milk by blending.
- Robs estimates he ate 200 coconuts over the year.
- Can’t grow in Orlando but can be foraged in south Florida.
Grown in the garden: Pigeon peas and southern peas.
- Grew pigeon pea tree. Good protein source. Used like lentils
- Planned on primarily fishing for mullet because they only eat plants - less health risk from bioaccumulate like mercury in tuna
- Mullet were hard to catch and Rob didn't end up relying on them as much as planned
- This turned a problem (squirrels eating a protein-rich crop) into a solution (squirrels became protein-rich food source)
- Rob says he ate only 9 squirrels total
Honey was a staple during his project. He probably harvested 5 gallons from the bees he stewarded. Honey provided calories, improved the enjoyment of meals, and was also good for fermenting.
- This brought up the point that any one thing isn't challenging, but trying to do everything is challenging. This was a principle Rob had to keep in mind throughout the project to stay focused on what worked and not let too many distractions or things he'd like to do consume too much of his attention.
- How to never get sick from eating mushrooms: Be 100% sure it’s edible. Get triple confirmation i.e. get 3 separate individuals to confirm for you that you can eat it
Rob is a strong believer that food is medicine. As part of the rules for this project, he could not take any conventional medicines including vitamins or supplements. Instead he had to rely on the food he grew or foraged to keep him in good health. It seemed to work because Rob did not get sick for the entirety of the project.
- Elderberry syrup (foraged in Orlando plus honey - took almost every day)
- Fire cider (made vinegar from fruit plus garlic onion pepper more - ate almost every day)
- Turmeric (grows amazing here; can just buy organic in store and plant in yard)
- Ginger, garlic, reishi shrooms, herbal teas
- Plantagos (broad leaf plantains) - Add honey and it prevents swelling from beestings
- "Wild fermentation" is essentially harvesting bacteria and yeast from the air
- Rob ate sauerkraut, green papaya kraut, fruit scrap vinegar (from plants like pineapples), honey wine, jun, kombucha, ginger beer (not alcoholic beer), and more
- Used underground storage to keep fermentation jars cooler
- Ate 6 month old kraut that was sitting through summer after trip to Wisconsin. Was delicious.
- Easy to grow in Central FL: loquat, mulberry, star fruit, Suriname cherry, bananas, avocado, citrus, passion fruit
- Abundant forage: mango (knocked on doors in South Florida to harvest from trees in people's yards - most said Yes), prickly pear cactus, white sapote
- Mentions: persimmon, sea grapes, coco plum, java plum, pond apple - rob has success with these
- Many types of "weeds" almost everywhere in the US can be eaten e.g. Bidens Alba is a super abundant weed usually plucked out of yards, but it's very nutritious and has medicinal uses. Can be a salad garnish, both the flower and greens can be eaten
- Other edible weeds include dollar weed, got kola, oxalis, purslane
- Carrots and beets
- Tindora cucumber
- Everglades tomatoes
- Daikon radish
- Green tea
- Amaranth grain
- Green beans, yard long beans
- Foraging: acorns, hickory nuts, beauty berry, Smilax, cattail, bitter melon, Brazilian pepper, American nightshade, Yaupon holly for caffeine (abundant ornamental tree in Central Florida; North America's only native caffeinated plant; Rob called it "Yerba mate" of Central Florida)
- Acorns must not be underestimated. Oak trees are present on every continent except Antarctica. They drop tons of acorns. If you tried hard you could get almost all your calories from acorns.
- Peanuts: Some grew but not many decided not to exert the effort
- Sunflowers: Squirrel issues
- Sugar cane for sugar: Didn't get to it before it rotted. Made up for it with use of honey.
- Coconut oil: got 4 ounces for year. No oil was a big challenge overall.
- Diverse, delicious meals
- Probably ate over 500 lbs of sweet potatoes. Mashed with pigeon peas and other greens was a common meal
- Another meal was boiled yuca in green wrap with kraut garnish, sometimes with fish
- Had no oven for baking. Used at a friend's house.
Trip to Wisconsin
- Was away for 82 days with no garden.
- Prepped by dehydrating lots of foods.
- Had 100k calories with him when left. A couple hundred pounds.
- Foraged a lot and fished on the trip
- Foraged 100 different foods in Wisconsin. Apples were huge. Made apple sauce.
- "Everywhere you go there’s a perennial TP growing."
- Had pests. For instance, pumpkins got ravaged by caterpillars.
- Diversity is key. Polyculture vs monoculture. Pests don’t go to different species so it's important to have many different varieties.
- Need healthy soil, enough sun, planting at right place, right time of year
- Foraging experts: Green Deane, Andy Firk, Jon Martin
- Permaculture experts: David the Good, Pete Kanaris, Terry Meer and Sustainable Kashi
- Local Nurseries: HEART Village is favorite, ECHO Global, A Natural Farm and Education Center for fruit, South Seminole Farms and Nursery, Greens Nursery, Green Dreams
- Local Seeds: Crispy Farms, Southern Heritage Seed Collective in Gainesville
- Local Authors: Robert Bowden, David the Good, Peggy Lantz, James Stephens, Marabou Thomas (helped Rob make tortillas without oil using flour from garden)
- Other Authors: Sandor Katz is a must