LA CROSSE — Rob Greenfield practices “lead-by-example” activism.
The 2009 UW-La Crosse graduate went a year without showering — at least in a conventional sense — to promote awareness of water conservation.
During a three-and-a-half-month bike journey across the United States, he lived totally “off the grid,” using no electricity, no fossil fuels, no water from faucets and foraging for food in dumpsters.
In 2012, he bought a one-way ticket to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, flying down with nothing more than his passport, a cellphone and the clothes he was wearing that day. He hitchhiked home, just to prove that people are decent and it’s possible to exist, and even travel internationally, without money or possessions.
“The more simply I live, the more freely I live,” he said. “This is what I believe, and this is what makes me feel good.”
This summer, he’s back on the bike — a handmade, eco-friendly bamboo-frame bike, of course. He’s crossing the country again, this time drawing attention to the American food waste epidemic.
He left his home in San Diego, California, on June 2. Along the way, he has been volunteering at nonprofits, planting wildflowers and vegetables in what he calls “freestyle gardening,” and promoting a happy, healthy, carefree and waste-free existence.
“I tend to do extreme things,” said Greenfield, who stopped in La Crosse on Thursday and Friday before continuing his journey east through Vernon County and on to Madison and Milwaukee.
He doesn’t expect people to copy his lifestyle, but he does believe that drawing attention to U.S. problems like pollution and consumerism will send a positive message and spur meaningful change.
“Even if people start with little things, it creates a ripple effect,” he said. “I want people to feel inspired.”
An Ashland native, Greenfield will fuel his journey across his home state solely on food he finds in dumpsters. He dropped by the Kane Street Community Garden Friday afternoon to do a little weeding, but he said he planned to check out the local grocery stores (well, the dumpsters behind them) to see what he could forage.
“If there’s a dumpster, there’s food in it,” he said, noting that Americans throw away nearly half the food the country produces — roughly equivalent to $165 billion wasted. Much of the food that ends up in dumpsters is perfectly clean, safe and healthy to eat, he said.
Greenfield packs light: a tent and sleeping mat, a few articles of clothing, an eco-friendly laundry kit and a solar charger for his bike lights, cellphone and computer (though he prefers to patronize community libraries for Internet access).
He uses a portable water purification system to drink water from lakes and rivers, and he carries a few grocery staples like honey, apple cider vinegar, olive oil and coconut oil.
He likes to camp in cemeteries. He goes swimming every day. He doesn’t wear shoes. He has one pair, but he left them at home.
“I don’t need money anymore,” Greenfield said. “I’m the happiest and healthiest I’ve ever been.”