urban rewilding

A Year of Autonomous Eating - Rob Greenfield

Photo: Rob Greenfield via  RobGreenfield.tv

Photo: Rob Greenfield via RobGreenfield.tv

People have a hard time wrapping their head around the idea of growing and foraging 100 percent of my food…There are zero exceptions: my salt; my oil; no grocery stores; no restaurants; no taking a nibble at a party; no gifts of food from others; no going to someone else’s garden and eating from their garden; literally growing and foraging 100 percent of the food.
— Rob Greenfield

This week’s guest is adventurer and environmental activist Rob Greenfield, whose societal-boundary-pushing projects have ranged from biking across the United States on a bamboo bicycle for sustainability (three times); to dumpster diving in thousands of grocery store dumpsters to raise awareness about food waste and hunger; to wearing 30 days’ of trash to create a visual of how much trash one American creates. Here, we focus on Rob’s latest extreme endeavor: Growing and foraging 100 percent of his food for One. Entire. Year.

From his 100-square-foot tiny home in Orlando, Florida (hand-built from 99 percent salvaged materials, natch), Rob shares the eating hows and whats of his aptly named Food Freedom project (think harvested salt and golf-course-foraged giant yams; oh, he also grows his own toilet paper). But with no shortage of self-reflection, Rob also digs deeper: into his own impoverished upbringing, the unintended consequences of living with no car or bank account or bills, and finding his true purpose in a life both inside and outside industrial capitalist society. 

Some of what we talk about:

  • What’s behind all the 1s: The launch of Food Freedom on 11/11 and Rob’s 111 possessions

  • The plan to grow and forage 100 percent of his food for one year; building his 100-square-foot tiny house in Orlando (and why Orlando?)

  • Staple crops, salt from scratch and the 160-pound yam 

  • How to make coconut oil; North America’s yerba mate

  • The 11 months of prep that went into the project 

  • Rob’s philosophy on foraging and pesticides

  • A sampling of the 300-500 foods Rob will be eating for the next 12 months 

  • Taking inspiration from subsistence cultures  

  • The paradox of Rob’s impoverished childhood: “We were consumers. My mom was a consumer; I was a consumer.” 

  • His awakening to “not living a delusional life”

  • What it’s like to live with no credit cards, no bank account, no driver’s license, no car, no bills and no taxes 

  • Consumerism and mortality 

  • Rob’s vision for the future 

You can follow Rob’s year of Food Freedom on his website, along with on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.

If you enjoyed this show, subscribe on iTunes so you don’t miss the next one (and don’t forget to leave a rating and review). The theme music is by Paul Damian Hogan.

Resources from the show:

Orlando Permaculture
Berkey water filter
Rob’s post: On Health Insurance, Age and Death
Rob’s post: My Net Worth Is
Rob’s TED talk: Be the Change in a Messed Up World

Re-creating the Village - Rachel Natland and Chris Morasky

Top: Photos of Chris Morasky, Rachel Natland via  Wisdom Keepers . Bottom photo:  Elements Gathering .

Top: Photos of Chris Morasky, Rachel Natland via Wisdom Keepers. Bottom photo: Elements Gathering.

I had to go way off into the wilderness for a long time and really live apart from people before I realized that I actually do like people, and that I actually really love people—and that what I really don’t like is the way that people often treat each other. And that it’s because we have been born into a society which is so very strange and so very different from what is normal for our species, if we look at the long history of humanity.
— Chris Morasky
A lot of the things that happened to me as a child would not have happened to me if I was in a community that could have caught me.
— Rachel Natland

For 99 percent of our human history, we lived in small, likely egalitarian societies—tight-knit hunter-gatherer bands of a couple dozen people deeply reliant on their community and on the surrounding environment, for their survival. So where does that leave we present-day humans, now navigating an increasingly virtualized and individualized world amidst the dizzying urban constructs (not to mention vast social inequality) we call modern civilization? In a word: searching, to return to the fold of community and nature in which our species evolved for hundreds of thousands of years. 

My guests today, Chris Morasky and Rachel Natland, know that search well, and for decades pursued it on disparate paths: Chris, as a wildlife biologist who lived for more than 20 years in the wilderness and became one of the foremost Stone Age skills experts in North America; and Rachel, as a single mother who overcame her own inner-city childhood of abuse and addiction to become a spiritual mentor. Four years ago the rugged survivalist and the urban community-builder met, and the rest is history—and the future: Now a pair and living in Portland, they are restoring ancient egalitarian wisdom to the 21st century via their Wisdom Keepers school in Los Angeles and the Pacific Northwest. Hear their incredible life stories that brought them to this remarkable moment in time, their poignant vision for the future, and how they're re-creating the village with their don't-miss Elements Gathering in the ancient sequoias. Hope to see you there!

Here's the run-down of our conversation:

  • Planning their upcoming Elements Gathering: A week-long village experience in the ancient sequoias

  • How Rachel brought herself up out of the inner city and broke the cycle of abuse and addiction

  • Chris: “I believe that children choose their parents”

  • The disparate paths that brought Rachel and Chris to the world of rewilding

  • The epiphany moment that sent Chris on a 20+-year-long journey living in the wilderness and small communities of British Columbia, Idaho and Utah

  • How Chris navigates life intuitively, and tapping into “our instinctual connection to the perfect system of nature”

  • Why Chris left the wilderness for Los Angeles

  • Overcoming the illness of modern society, and how to get the most out of our lives

  • Rachel’s calling to the West, single motherhood, and classism

  • How Chris and Rachel met

  • Community, autonomy and rugged individualism

  • Why they left LA for Portland, and what comes next

  • Our egalitarian history, technology and exponential growth

  • Wisdom Keepers

  • Rewilding, space exploration, and Chris and Rachel’s thoughts on the future

You can learn more about Chris and Rachel, along with their current class and workshop offerings on the Wisdom Keepers website, as well as on Facebook. Want to go to Elements Gathering this year? Don't wait, tickets are going fast! (You can also check out the event virtually via the Elements Facebook page.) 

If you enjoyed this show, subscribe on iTunes so you don’t miss the next one (and don’t forget to leave a rating and review). The theme music is by Paul Damian Hogan. Want to chime in on this episode or have an idea for a future show? Connect with me via my Instagram page, I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Extreme Simplicity - Christopher Nyerges

Christopher Nyerges Uncivilize Podcast .jpg
Some people think I’m teaching for the apocalypse...how to get by. You probably could, if you take these classes. But I’m hoping we won’t have an apocalypse. If we change our behavior, and [learn how to] use less and work together better, we won’t have apocalypses.
— Christopher Nyerges

This week, I step away from my Skype interview setup to head out into the urban wild with Los Angeles-based survivalist (and National Geographic Doomsday Preppers alum) Christopher Nyerges, who has taught wild food foraging, wilderness skills, and ecology awareness to nature-starved urbanites for the past five decades. Christopher was the editor of the former Wilderness Way magazine, and is also a prolific writer, having authored thousands of articles and more than 20 books on the skills of self-reliance, including How to Survive Anywhere, Guide to Wild Foods and Useful Plants, Foraging California, and Extreme Simplicity: Homesteading in the City.

In many ways, that latter title could serve as the theme of his life's work, as I learned in this forthright conversation with Christopher about our societal obsession with money, his School of Self-Reliance, and what’s driven him to live a (some might say, though I wouldn’t) radically spartan, even off-grid existence in a city where materialism seems to know no bounds. I also got a literal taste of Christopher’s vast wild food knowledge, thanks to the accompanying edible plant walk he took me on in Pasadena’s Hahamongna Watershed Park

Here’s the breakdown of the show:

  • My edible wild plant walk with Christopher, and how to avoid poisonous plants

  • His experience being homeless and living as a squatter in LA

  • Christopher’s wilderness/survival classes

  • “Food was sacred”: Growing up not wasting anything in a family of six kids

  • Why Christopher chose the path of minimalism

  • Writing Extreme Simplicity and living off-grid for 20 years in the Highland Park neighborhood of LA

  • Modern-world clutter versus owning things that have purpose

  • Christopher’s thoughts on the apocalypse

  • Bukowski and death: “[My] focus on death isn’t about death; it’s about life”

  • The four illusions of money

  • What we can learn from tribal peoples about functioning as a communal society

  • Christopher’s thoughts on the future of cities

You can learn more about Christopher’s classes, special events and writings on The School of Self-Reliance website as well as on Facebook. See links to a few of his most popular books, below!

If you enjoyed this show, subscribe on iTunes so you don’t miss the next one (and don’t forget to leave a rating and review). The theme music is by Paul Damian Hogan. Want to chime in on this episode or have an idea for a future show? Connect with me via my Instagram page, I’d love to hear your thoughts!

A few of Christopher's books:

Aboriginal Skills and the Path to Undistractable Attention - Jim Robertson

I always go back to square one: Where am I coming from? What is my intention here? My intention is to come from the best place possible, which is coming from my heart, from that pure place; that place that as I choose to see it, we all have.... And the choice, the big choice in life, is: Do we want to listen to this, do we want to pay attention to this, do we want to feed this, do we want to nurture this? Or do we want to ignore it?
— Jim Robertson

In our world of endless consumerist and technological distraction, “undistractable attention” is about more than just shutting off the social media; it’s about tuning into the guiding voice that’s inside each and every one of us. One pathway to that voice may be meditation or yoga, but our most fundamental route—as I learned in this life-changing conversation with Jim Robertson, an aboriginal skills instructor and naturalist based in Santa Monica, California, who coined that term—is via our eons-old home in the natural world. As Jim explains here, the absence of that connection in our modern-day lives has led to an epidemic of physical and mental illness, and left us struggling to fill that void with one mind-numbing addiction after another.

Jim has worked as a naturalist for the Santa Monica Mountains and taught aboriginal skills and wilderness survival training to nature-bereft urbanites for over a decade. But remarkably, Jim didn’t come to the world of aboriginal skills until he was well into his fifties. It isn’t often in our modern world and culture that we have the opportunity to sit and absorb the wisdom of our elders, and Jim, 78 years young, held me rapt as he unfolded his captivating life history over the course of this conversation, including a moving look at his struggles with physical and emotional pain that brought him to his current path. Whether you want to learn more about plants and the fun of primitive campouts, seek inspiration on how to live more deeply and fully every day, or simply want to be enthralled by the wisdom of one of the most delightful human beings I’ve ever had the pleasure of interviewing, check out this episode! 

Here’s the path of our conversation:

  • Innate “primitive skills” and Jim’s childhood spent outdoors in 1940s California

  • How Jim discovered aboriginal skills in his fifties

  • The health challenge (and the psychic!) that led Jim to become a naturalist for the Santa Monica Mountains

  • Immersion in the outdoors as the ultimate medicine

  • Jim’s earlier decade-long struggle with profound emotional and physical pain, and how he ultimately came to the other side

  • The practice of what Jim calls “undistractable attention” (or "indistractable [sic] attention," as we refer to it a few times in the episode!)

  • Gail Sheehy’s book Passages

  • “I don’t think there’s anything better than being as sensitive as we can possibly be; because we want to feel deeply, we want to see deeply, we want to hear deeply, we want to live deeply and more fully”

  • The Shawshank Redemption and the place within that cannot be harmed

  • Playing pre-professional baseball, surfing and spearfishing at the beach as a teenager in 1950s Santa Monica

  • Discovering yoga while working in insurance in the late 1960s: “Here I was a business guy, with my styled hair [and] a tie”

  • Personal transformation in a time of monumental social upheaval (both then and now)

  • Trump

  • The necessary role of aboriginal and indigenous skills in the age of materialism

  • What it means to co-create with Mother Nature: Plant identifying, basket making, bow and arrow making, fire making

  • Jim’s aboriginal skills classes

  • “Full primitive” camping

  • Shooting a bison with a handmade bow and arrow (and “making everything imaginable” from that bison -- “from the hair to the bones to the intestines”) at Utah’s Boulder Outdoor Survival School

  • Jim’s thoughts on hunting and his day-to-day diet

  • The acronym Jim lives by (in the wilderness and everywhere)

  • A recent campout gone awry in the eastern Sierras

  • The deficit of nature in modern life and its connection to our epidemic of addiction

  • How to tap in to undistractable attention in your everyday life

You can learn more about Jim and his classes via his website, Meetup group, and on Facebook. Have a question for Jim? Reach out to him directly: jimrobertson[at]aboriginalskills[dot]com.

If you enjoyed this show, subscribe on iTunes so you don’t miss the next one (and don’t forget to leave a rating and review). The theme music is by Paul Damian Hogan. Want to chime in on this episode or have an idea for a future show? Connect with me via my Instagram page, I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Learn more:

Naturalist Training in the Santa Monica Mountains
Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area
Boulder Outdoor Survival School

Apprentice of the Wild - Sean Critchfield

sean critchfield uncivlize podcast.jpg
The city has become [the] survival environment, because if you don’t have money in a city, typically you perish. But in the woods, it’s all there; we’ve just forgotten how to listen and how to receive it.
— Sean Critchfield

When I first came up with the idea for the Uncivilize Podcast, I knew that my first interview had to be with veteran outdoorsman Sean Critchfield, lead instructor for the Wisdom Keepers School Apprentice of the Wild program here in Los Angeles, via which he teaches ancient and wilderness skills to more than 200 children, including my own two kiddos. My girls and I began taking Sean’s classes last spring (adults accompany younger students plus he teaches adult classes, too), and since then we can’t imagine life in LA without him. He has become a much beloved mentor as our family transitions from mere outdoor enthusiasts to people with a true outdoor skill set.

But it is also Sean who undoubtedly inspired this podcast, because he has opened up a world of possibility by doing what so many others in the wilderness / primitive skills movement wouldn’t dream of doing: choosing to reside in the midst of a megacity while he pursues a life immersed in the natural world and the fundamental skills of self-reliance. As a result of that seemingly paradoxical choice, he is not only living proof of the idea that nature is not, in fact, “somewhere else,” but an essential facet of the human existence with which we must all find a way to make our home; he has been able to share his knowledge with so many. 

Whether like me, you’re just entering the exciting world of plant identifying, animal tracking, fire making and shelter building and are overwhelmed about where to start, or you’re a veteran outdoorsperson struggling with navigating the realities of our hyper-modern world, I know you’ll appreciate the urban rewilding wisdom Sean brings to this interview. He’s also a gentle soul and a gifted storyteller (you should see this man hold rapt a dozen-plus otherwise rowdy kids in the woods), and I promise you’ll find yourself mesmerized by the profundity of his thoughts on nature, on learning, and on using the circumstances of our reality to more fully connect with the world around us, wherever that may be. 

Here’s what we delve into in this first episode:

  • Navigating urban life and finding pockets of beauty everywhere

  • Sean’s work on the East Coast with renowned forager Carmen Corradino: “I now look at the woods differently”

  • The city as the “survival” environment

  • Sean’s childhood as an Air Force brat and learning bushcraft skills from his father

  • Fly fishing, rock climbing, summit hiking, backpacking

  • How Sean came to primitive skills and wilderness survival

  • “I don’t care who you are; The more you learn, the less you know”

  • Modern learning versus ancient learning: Transference of ideas versus a transformation of lives

  • Becoming a Nevada Naturalist

  • The rabbit hole of interconnected skills and Sean’s advice for getting started

  • Meeting Chris Morasky and the importance of finding mentors

  • Why “the only perfect survival shelter is in a survival guide”

  • Learning to make a coal with a bow-drill fire kit (and what is a coal, anyway?)

  • “There is a presence that we’re unaware of that is demanding gratitude and respect”

  • Teaching wilderness skills to young kids and failure as a tool for learning

  • Why discomfort is OK

  • An encounter with angry wasps

  • The risks that come with nature versus accepted risks in the modern world

  • Rock climbing and accepting the circumstances of your reality

  • Why Sean lives in LA, Apprentice of the Wild and how he balances the natural and modern worlds

  • Sean’s thoughts on technology and his vision for the future: “It’s the only ending I see that works”

You can follow Sean’s work or check out his workshop/class offerings via the Apprentice of the Wild page on the Wisdomkeepers site, learn more at the Apprentice of the Wild Facebook page or reach out to Sean directly at apprenticeofthewild[at]gmail[dot]com. 

If you enjoyed this show, subscribe on iTunes so you don’t miss the next one (and don’t forget to leave a rating and review). The theme music is by Paul Damian Hogan. Want to chime in on this episode or have an idea for a future show? Connect with me via my Instagram page, I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Further reading/watching:

The Nevada Naturalist program
The California Naturalist program
Steven Pinker’s TED talk: The Surprising Decline in Violence