Environmental activist and author Rob Greenfield is living proof that for some, "the simple life" is a happier one.
Growing up next to the world's largest body of freshwater helped to instill Greenfield with an awareness about earth-keeping and resource consumption. However, it took full immersion into a "mainstream lifestyle" at UW-La Crosse for Greenfield to "wake up" and realize that his early earth ethics could help him become "a dude making a difference."
Greenfield recently published "A Dude Making a Difference," chronicling his transformation from a consumer to activist while biking across America in 2011 on a bamboo bicycle. In 104 days, Greenfield traveled 4,700 miles, never turned on a faucet and spent a lot of time diving into dumpsters to harvest food that would otherwise go to waste.
According to Greenfield, his work today serves to bring awareness to environmental issues affecting all of us and to "educate and inspire people to be a part of the solution."
"If people don't know that something is happening they are never going to do something about it," Greenfield said.
During his bike trip across America, Greenfield's biggest discovery was that a startling amount of food is simply wasted. He worked to raise awareness locally and nationally about the issue by recruiting locals to help him dumpster dive, and then would display the food publically for anyone to take.
"In the United States we produce enough food to feed two entire US populations but at the same time, 50 million Americans are food insecure. It makes no sense for so many people to be hungry while so much food goes to waste," Greenfield explained.
Over the course of his trip, 70 percent of Greenfield's diet came from dumpsters, and he was able to save over $100,000 worth of food from going to waste.
Greenfield recently returned to Ashland to visit his mother, Cheryl Marsha Greenfield, and was "pretty blown away by the amount of good produce" Wal-Mart had in their dumpster.
Greenfield says that anyone, anywhere can help to raise food awareness by getting involved and proposing solutions. He suggests contacting local supermarkets to advocate for a composting program, suggesting to store managers that the store donate more food to the local food shelf, or establishing a local food rescue program such as the successful "City Harvest" in New York City.
At one point, Greenfield had set the goal to become a millionaire before the age of 30, believing that "opportunity lied in money and that money was security." However, living simply since 2011 has proven to Greenfield that money is not his answer to his happiness.
Greenfield just returned from a 70-day and 7,000 mile journey across South America, making the trek "without a penny" in his pocket and relying solely on his "resourcefulness and the kindness of others." His endeavor was filmed and will be featured as a six-episode TV show for Discovery Channel titled "Free Ride."
Until recently, Greenfield spent the time he wasn't adventuring living in an off-grid tiny home in San Diego. However, he just auctioned off his home as part of a campaign to raise $10,000 to build 10 tiny homes for the homeless in San Diego. Greenfield reached his goal at the beginning of March, and has plans to travel with this girlfriend in service of others.
"My plans as of now are not concrete but my ideals are... I have put myself into a position to live deeply in the service of the earth and those in need of a hand and you can count on me to do so," Greenfield explained in a recent blog post.
Greenfield's decision to adopt his current lifestyle was inspired by several environmental documentaries such as Zeitgeist: The Movie, Food Inc., What the Bleep Do We Know, Supersize Me and Planet Earth.
"My eyes were opened up to how the normal things that I do on a daily basis have an impact on people, the other species, and the earth as a whole," Greenfield explained.
Greenfield said it wasn't always easy to make changes to his lifestyle, however when he began to see the mental, emotional and physical profits of his choices for himself, the environment and others, the decision to keep simplifying was easy. Greenfield said selling his car and switching to a bike saved him an initial $7,000 per year, and getting rid of his cell phone added another $1,500 to his take-home income.
"Maybe, just maybe, more stuff doesn't make us happier. More money
doesn't necessarily make us any healthier," said Greenfield. " For me, I've found that the more simply I live the more freely I live and the more time I have to pursue my passions rather than making money to pay the bills."
Although many may not feel comfortable adopting Greenfield's specific "home free" lifestyle, he believes everyone can learn simple lessons to apply to their own lives. Greenfield's blog is a great resource for those looking for simple living techniques. Blog post titles include "12 Simple Ways to Start Living an Earth-Friendly Lifestyle Today," "10 Simple Ways to Make Less Trash Each Day," and " How to Overcome the Fear to Live and Earth Friendly Lifestyle."
"If just one human being in seven billion makes changes in their life, then it doesn't really make a difference on the grand problems that we face," he said. "However, if we band together and each make little changes together they can make great changes.
"I personally value life greatly, so if you're little changes make you happier, and healthier or improve the lives of others in your community than that's enough in itself in my opinion."
Greenfield's mother believes growing up in Ashland was instrumental in developing Greenfield's earth ethic.
"I think young people want to get away from what they know but come to appreciate their roots. Ashland provides a lot of opportunity for people to get close to nature, and that was always important to Rob," Marsha said.
Marsha is very proud of her son's work and believes that his lifestyle choices are a mature manifestation of how Greenfield always used to "stand up to the bullies."
"He was very kind as a kid, and would always come home telling me about someone being teased or bullied and he would stand up for them," Marsha recalled. "For the most part, I never told Rob not to do something or that he couldn't do something. I feel fortunate to have been able to bring him into the world and am proud of him for adopting his mission and following his principles."
Greenfield believes that Ashland residents live in a unique community that allows for lifestyle adjustments to truly make an impact. He suggests that people in the area consider buying local, buying reusable products, biking to school or work, and avoid supporting businesses that will send the money outside of the region.
"Take care of each other and the environment in Ashland," Greenfield said. " It's a great place and should be cherished and protected!"
To learn more about Rob Greenfield and read his blog, visit Rob-Greenfield.TV.
Chequamegon Bay residents can grab a copy of "A Dude Making a Difference" at the Vaughn Public Library, Ashland High School Library, Spinster Books, or order the book from Book World on Main Street.
One-hundred percent of the proceeds are donated to environmental nonprofits.