"Feel it," he says, plucking a leaf from a bush in the Audubon Park back yard he now calls home. "It's super soft and it smells like mint."
The bush is Plectranthus barbatus - or Blue Spur Flower - and its leaves are so lush and velvety that Greenfield has not purchased commercial toilet paper in at least five years.
He even wrote about it in an article he titled: 10 Ways To Wipe Your Butt For Free.
To some, this may classify Greenfield as an extremist, and Greenfield himself might agree. But not because of his toilet tissue.
Over the past decade, Greenfield, now 32, has dived into more than 2,000 dumpsters across the country to expose food waste. He has cut up his credit cards, ditched his car, bicycled cross-country (three times) and learned to subsist on less than $5,000 a year, giving the rest away to charity. After moving to Orlando in December 2017, he is now living in a 10-by-10-foot house he built himself on a borrowed patch of suburban yard and undertaking his toughest challenge yet: a year spent eating nothing but what he grows or forages himself.
No restaurants, no grocery or convenience stores, no food trucks, no raiding friends' pantries, no handouts. Not even eggs from a back-yard chicken unless he has grown the chicken feed himself - which he intends to, but hasn't yet.
Since Nov. 11, 2018, the bulk of his diet has come from a meticulously managed garden of some 100 fruits, vegetables, nuts, grains and medicinal plants.
A smaller share comes from what he gathers - a rack of bananas by the road or, recently, some coconuts he collected on a trip to Stuart, where he was giving a speech.
The rest comes from the ocean, where he fishes if he can catch a ride to the beach, and where he collects seawater so he can boil it down for salt.
He's doing this, he says, to highlight the acute disconnect most of us have with our food - not knowing where it's grown, how it's transported, how it's processed and how it's packaged and distributed. If his method is radical, it's only to showcase that it's possible to live happily, healthfully, in a completely different way.
"It's not about getting other people to do what I'm doing," he says. "I'm young. I'm healthy. And this takes a lot of time" - as much as 60 hours a week.
"This is about getting people thinking, 'What can I do with my space? Could I grow an herb garden on my balcony or could I turn my front yard into a garden or could I join a community garden? Or if I don't want to grow food, what about . going to the local farmers market?' I'm really just trying to inspire other people to either take the first step or, if they've already taken 100 steps, to take the 101st step."
'He lives the walk'
Greenfield, a Wisconsin native, has all the hallmarks of the Eagle Scout he became in his teens: He's friendly, humble, a quick study and zealously committed to his mission.
"He doesn't just talk the talk, he lives the walk. Very few people put into action what they believe the way he does," says Chris Castro, director of sustainability for the city of Orlando. "And, on top of that, he's super nice. He doesn't shame you if you don't do it his way. Because what he's doing is incredibly difficult."
There's winter cold and extreme summer heat and humidity. There are thunderstorms, mosquitoes and stealthy squirrels who eat Greenfield's seeds.
In February, on Day 107, he admits he longed for a restaurant.
"I cannot say that I am beaming with joy right now. I cannot say that things are easy. I cannot say that all is well," he wrote to Facebook followers. "Last week I collected about 50 coconuts and I am still working on turning them into oil. Some have molded. I think I dried them out too much and the oil-making process is not going smoothly. . As I type, I am watching a squirrel eating my coconuts that are laying in the breeze to keep them from molding. I'm just going to let the squirrel keep going for now."
By the end of the post, though, Greenfield recommits to his goal. "I feel better having written this out," he says.
Greenfield first came to Orlando in 2016 for a speaking gig, invited by East End Market founder John Rife.
"He was sort of famous in certain circles already for a lot of reasons, one of them being his tiny home," Rife says, referring to the 50-square-foot, solar-paneled house Greenfield had built in San Diego, where he was living at the time.
Rife, a commercial real estate developer who became a champion of a local and sustainable food system, used the visit to introduce Greenfield to kindred spirits, including the Orlando Permaculture group, which taught him about Florida's edible plant options.
"He was already sort of this poet laureate for sustainability," Rife says. "But I think in Orlando he found his tribe."
Of course, one does not become a poet laureate overnight.
In Greenfield's early 20s, while finishing a degree in biology at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, his two loves were partying and money. He spent his summers selling educational books door to door, working 80 hours a week. He wanted to be a millionaire by age 30.
After college, he ventured into sales and then marketing, ending up in San Diego, where he opened his own marketing firm, The Greenfield Group.
"I owned two cars, shopped at Walmart for my food and my cheap crap, drank the cheapest beer I could find, took home my share of plastic bags, wasted plenty of water, ate too much meat (and) needed the newest gadgets always." he writes on RobGreenfield.TV, his main online platform. "Not that any of these things are inherently bad, but they definitely were not deeply serving myself or the earth."
So what changed him? There isn't a tidy answer. It was more of an awakening, he says, fueled by his new social circles and sobering books and films - Zeitgeist: The Movie, What the #$(asterisk)! Do We (K)now!?, Food, Inc., even Forrest Gump.
In 2011 he began transitioning to a diet of mostly whole, unprocessed foods and limited meat - at which point, some people might have figured they'd done enough. But for Greenfield, the changes began to accelerate, as he chronicled on his website:
02/2012: Got rid of all body-care items with unnatural ingredients. Got rid of chemical cleaning products, plastic items, and the microwave. Stopped using one-time-use anything, like paper towels, tin foil, and plastic bags.
03/2012: Pulled my money out of investments that had any involvement in businesses that do harm to the environment.
05/2012: Sold my car, bought a bike, and started using car2go electric car share program. I started purchasing less stuff, shopping local, and supporting ethical businesses.
06/2012: Began transforming my business so that every aspect was a part of the solution, not the problem. Projects I started included a community bike program, trash cleanups, and energy-efficient light bulb exchanges.
06/2012: Got a vasectomy so that I could dedicate my time on Earth to the masses, rather than raising my own child, and also to set an example of a man taking responsibility for birth control.
Yes, he knows this step was drastic, especially for a then-25-year-old. And he's not advocating against reproduction generally, he says. But seven years later, and after recently ending a four-year romance with a woman - in part because of his lifestyle - he says he has never had second thoughts about the decision.
"I've designed my whole life around impermanence," he says. "Everything is extremely simple and impermanent. So when I do decide to be in a relationship, like, it's usually under the idea that we're not going to be together forever." And, he acknowledges, that's "definitely" not an ideal environment for raising a child.
Ideas for the future
As he talks, it is late morning on the first day of spring, and Greenfield has yet to have breakfast. Sure, he nibbled on some raw coconut and dried pumpkin seeds, but he keeps getting interrupted before he can fire up the outdoor stove for his casserole of sweet potato, Seminole pumpkin and Swiss chard.
Friends from one of his cross-country bike treks have come to visit. They're busily gutting mullet Greenfield caught on his trip to Stuart. Another friend is helping him build raised garden beds he plans to install in his Gardens for the People program - one of several community projects, including giving away seeds to would-be urban farmers - to help single moms and the disadvantaged grow at least some of their own food.
A foundation gave him a grant to cover the expense. But he also earns speaking fees at conferences and public appearances, and he is writing two books, to be released next year.
He barters or buys what he needs, which isn't much.
When he was looking for a place to settle in Orlando, he merely put out word on his social media accounts, asking if anyone had space to spare. Lisa Ray, a retiree of Florida Power and FedEx and one of his half-million followers, answered the call.
"I've always been interested in sustainability. (but) I wasn't so sure about committing to that large of a project," says Ray, a former zoology major and occasional teacher at the Florida School of Holistic Living. "It took a lot of soul-searching, because I was used to living alone, even though he wasn't going to be sharing the house with me. But after I met (him), it convinced me that it was something I wanted to do."
He dug up her typical Florida front yard to plant the garden, from which she takes whatever she wants. He installed gutters on her roof and funneled the rainwater run-off into storage barrels, both for his own needs and the yard's. He built the tiny house and an outdoor kitchen and (odor-free) compost toilet that helps produce fertilizer. And he helps out when she needs an extra hand for things like moving furniture.
The amount of electricity he uses, she says, is negligible. Without air-conditioning or heat, the tiny home only fuels a small freezer, a laptop computer and a Vitamix blender.
And, of course, he won't be there forever. Greenfield has not said exactly what he'll do after the year is up, but he has some ideas.
He'll likely tour to promote his books, including one on his food-independence project and another for kids tentatively titled, "Be the Change In A Messed-Up World." He may start a sustainable farm and educational institute where people can live, learn and grow food. He may spend some time living off only Florida-grown foods - but he'll let others do most of the growing.
"In my ideal case, I still won't go to a grocery store at all," he says. "I'll still be eating a local, all-natural diet. So no going to a restaurant, no going to a store to get a chocolate bar ."
Then he stops himself and gazes into the distance, pondering.
"Well, a chocolate bar," he says slowly. "Maybe I could just go there and get a chocolate bar."
Information from: Orlando Sentinel, http://www.orlandosentinel.com/
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