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Lessons Learned from My Yearlong 100% Homegrown and Foraged Food Challenge

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Reader Contribution
By Rob Greenfield

 

It’s the dream of millions of people: to live off the land and to never need to make a trip to the grocery store. But for nearly everyone with that dream, it’s just that — a dream. Our current global, industrial food system is just too convenient and easy to resist. Our modern lives are too busy and monetized to go that far back to the land.

I’ve been exploring food for nearly a decade, and since the beginning, I’ve had the burning question: Would it be possible to produce 100 percent of my own food in the times we live in? Could I exist without grocery stores and restaurants? Nothing packaged or processed? Nothing shipped from far-off lands? Could I grow and forage everything I ate for an entire year?

That’s the question I set out to answer just over a year ago. One big thing, though: I didn’t have a farm or even a house with a front yard. All I had was a backpack, and I didn’t have much growing experience either. You could say I was jumping off the deep end.

I chose to do this in Florida for its year-round growing season and the local “grow-your-own” movement I had stumbled across while traveling through a few years prior. I quickly got to work, meeting people in my neighborhood and proposing that I turn their lawns into gardens. It wasn’t hard to find takers. I’d cover all the costs and do pretty much all the work, and they could eat as much food as they’d like. What’s not to love about that deal?

I spent countless hours attending permaculture meetups; visiting gardens, farms and nurseries; taking foraging classes; reading books; and watching videos. Everything I needed to know was at my fingertips. I just had to put it all together and apply it.

Building Community with Neighborhood Gardens

Within a few months, I was growing enough food to share with friends. Those first few months were the most special. I was so new to growing food, and I was just learning the power of a tiny seed in partnership with sun, soil, and water. I ended up creating six small plots around the neighborhood, all within easy cycling distance of each other. For a place to live, I built a simple tiny house in a community member’s unused backyard, and in exchange for using their space, I turned their monoculture of grass into an at-home supermarket (for both of us to enjoy).

After 10 months, I was ready to get started growing and foraging 100 percent of my food. Now, when I say 100 percent, I truly mean it. Not even food from the farmers market or a friend’s garden — and no sneaky nibbles anywhere. I was going to learn how to grow every food or ingredient I wanted to eat or figure out how to source it in nature.

My 100% Homegrown and Foraged Food Plan

I grew more than 100 different foods in my gardens, including dozens of different greens packed with nutrients; sweet potatoes, cassava, and yams for my main caloric needs; pigeon peas and southern peas for protein; fruits, such as papayas and bananas; veggies, such as carrots and pumpkins and garlic; and onion, peppers, and herbs to add flavor and health to all of my meals. I raised bees for honey to satisfy my sweet tooth and to ferment into a comforting beverage.

I foraged over 200 foods from nature. I harvested giant wild yams from the woods; foraged fruit from trees in the wild and in public spaces around town; caught fish from the ocean, lakes and rivers; picked coconuts; harvested over 20 species of mushrooms in the woods; salvaged fresh deer that had been hit by cars; and savored wild greens high in nutrients. I harvested sea salt from the ocean, simply by boiling the water down until I had just a pot of salt, and I sourced my caffeine from the native yaupon holly tree.

Nature was my garden, my pantry, and my pharmacy. Turmeric, ginger, garlic, elderberry, reishi mushrooms, and herbal teas served as my medicine, and I adhered to the philosophy “let thy food be thy medicine.” When I traveled, I carried powder from moringa leaves, also called the “vitamin tree.”

This was food I could feel truly good about eating. It was all local, all natural, and all organic. I made it through the whole year without used a single pesticide. Sure I had pests, like when the cucumber worms started to destroy my pumpkins, but when I was growing over 100 different species, I didn’t fret if some of them went to the insects.

Overcoming Deficiencies with Hunting and Fishing

This was without a doubt one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done. I wanted to give up many times. The sheer amount of time and energy it took burned me out, especially the weeks that totaled up to 80 hours in the garden foraging, cooking, eating, preserving food, and cleaning. Halfway through the year, I thought I might have to give up when I became deficient in fat and protein after months of not being able to catch enough fish. But the dog days of summer came to an end, and I managed to start catching enough and finding deer in the cooler weather.

The year came to an end, and for the last few months, I felt as healthy as I could recall in my adult life. I finished off the same weight as I started and never got sick once. Four weeks have passed now, and today I find myself sitting in a cafe in New York City writing to you. I’m up here to do some media. I’ve been wandering the grocery stores in confusion, and I feel my lowest since before I started the project. I’m back in the industrial food system, and I don’t feel happier and healthier for it. But I digress.

Considering a Local Food Challenge? Offering Lessons Learned

This project wasn’t just about growing and foraging all my food. It was about empowering others to grow their own too, and to take back their health. I believe the globalized, industrialized food system is broken. This was my personal journey to step away, but it was about so much more. I did this to get you thinking. I want you to question your food.

Where does it come from? How does it get to you? How did it impact the Earth, other species, and the people who grew it? And if you don’t like the answers you find, I want to empower you to change them. Many of you reading this are already well on your journey. You might’ve taken 100 steps already. I hope that by going as far as I went that I can inspire you to take the next step.

And for those who have never grown any food, I want you to know you can start where you are. You can start an herb garden in your windowsill, grow some tomatoes in pots on your balcony, or put in a small raised bed in your front yard. If you have no space at all, you can join a community garden or talk to your neighbors who have space. You can source your food locally and purchase from local farmers and gardeners. The farmers market is a great place to start.

You can buy whole foods and cook more, rather than packaged processed foods that leave trash behind.

And we can work together to make sure our neighbors have healthy food too. We live in daunting times, and I believe that the answers to our current problems lie in community. We can create a more sustainable and just food system together.

Food Freedom, my book, will come out December 2020. Sign up here for a 20 percent discount. All of my proceeds are donated to nonprofits working for a more sustainable food system.

To read the guidelines behind this project, visit The Guidelines Behind Growing and Foraging 100% of My Food for a Year.

To read about the purpose of this project, read Why I’m Growing and Foraging 100% of my Food for a Year.

To read the list of all 300 foods that I ate, visit All the Foods that I’ve Grown and Foraged.

To read a log of what I ate each day, visit Growing and Foraging 100% of my Food for a Year – What I’m Eating.

To see photos of my meals and foods, visit Growing and Foraging 100% of My Food- Documented in Photos.