Skip to content

This Activist Is Growing 100 Percent Of His Own Food This Year For An Important Reason

Emma Loewe
March 21, 2019
Emma Loewe
mbg Sustainability + Health Director
By Emma Loewe
mbg Sustainability + Health Director
Emma Loewe is the Senior Sustainability Editor at mindbodygreen and the author of "Return to Nature: The New Science of How Natural Landscapes Restore Us."
Image by Sierra Ford Photography
March 21, 2019

When I last caught up with environmental activist Rob Greenfield, he was about to dive into the 20 pounds of sweet potatoes he'd harvested from the garden the night before. He planned to season them simply, with oil from coconuts he'd collected on the beach and a dash of sea salt he'd made using ocean water. It was day 121 of his year of growing and foraging 100 percent of his own food.

Why Greenfield is embarking on a year of "food freedom."

You might recognize Greenfield's name from his previous green exploits—each more outrageous and seemingly impossible than the last. In the fall of 2016, he kept all the trash he had created for a month and physically wore it at all hours. All 84 pounds of it. In the middle of New York City. Before that, he cycled from Denver to Kansas City barefoot on a bamboo bike. He's gone over 1,000 days without showering and years living in an off-the-grid tiny home.

These publicity stunts are designed to not just get people talking but rethinking their own habits.

"The idea is that these campaigns are eye-catching to anybody—whether they're interested in the environment or not," Greenfield tells mbg.

He hopes his latest one empowers people to take back control over their food, for the sake of their health and the planet. "If I can grow 100 percent of my own food, hopefully that's inspiration to show other people that they can grow maybe 5 percent or 10 percent of theirs," he says.

To complete this challenge, Greenfield has had to uproot his life in more ways than one. He's spent months learning the ins and outs of farming and foraging in Orlando, Florida, where he's currently based. He's forgone dinners out in favor of his staple diet of some combination of carbs (sweet potato, yuca, and yams), greens, and fruits. And the 40 to 60 hours a week he spends in the kitchen or in the garden haven't exactly helped his social life.

"There are a lot of times I’d like to be out hanging out with friends—but instead I'm at home shelling pigeon peas." He laughs. "Every day I have to cook three meals, spend time in the garden planting and harvesting, and process food."

I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t think it could help thousands of people grow their own food.

The work is time-consuming, but it hasn't been all bad. Cutting processed food has left Greenfield feeling healthier, and forgoing meals out has saved him money. "It was nine days into this when I noticed my digestion had changed," he says, adding that he's less bloated and more energized than he's been in years. He estimates he's now comfortably living on around $500 a month.

Not to mention, the challenge has brought him closer to his neighbors than ever before. Instead of living off his own isolated farm, Greenfield opted to do his growing in front yards around his neighborhood. In exchange for offering up some land, community members get free fresh produce, gardening classes, and seeds.

"I wouldn't be doing this if I didn't think it could help thousands of people grow their own food," says Greenfield, who also started gardens for single-parent households and community tree planting groups as an extension of this year of food freedom.

Why we can all benefit from connecting to our local food.

When I asked him what his first meal will be once his 365 days are up, Greenfield laughed and said, "I might just eat something from my garden." How's that for proof that taking back ownership of your food can be addicting?

By removing himself from the industrialized food system, Greenfield has fostered deeper love and appreciation for a resource that so many people take for granted. And that's something that anyone can do, whether it's through a blooming backyard farm or a tiny windowsill herb garden.

"We can't all produce 100 percent of our own food—but that's not the point," he says. "We can all start to grow a little bit more of our food or buy more from local farmers markets."

Emma Loewe author page.
Emma Loewe
mbg Sustainability + Health Director

Emma Loewe is the Sustainability and Health Director at mindbodygreen and the author of Return to Nature: The New Science of How Natural Landscapes Restore Us. She is also the co-author of The Spirit Almanac: A Modern Guide To Ancient Self Care, which she wrote alongside Lindsay Kellner.

Emma received her B.A. in Environmental Science & Policy with a specialty in environmental communications from Duke University. In addition to penning over 1,000 mbg articles on topics from the water crisis in California to the rise of urban beekeeping, her work has appeared on Grist, Bloomberg News, Bustle, and Forbes. She's spoken about the intersection of self-care and sustainability on podcasts and live events alongside environmental thought leaders like Marci Zaroff, Gay Browne, and Summer Rayne Oakes.