Skip to main content

City dweller avoids the supermarket for a year and lives off the land

Oliver Brown crouching amongst vegetables and herbs
Oliver Brown spent a year hunting and growing his own food.

ABC Radio Sydney: Amanda Hoh

Could you avoid the supermarket for a year and live off the land?

Well, that was the task Sydney man Oliver Brown set for himself in July last year.

The Maroubra resident has since spent 365 days eating only the food he could grow in his backyard, hunt for himself or barter.

He lost 15 kilograms in the process and now has a deep appreciation for where food comes from.

Skip Instagram Post

FireFox NVDA users - To access the following content, press 'M' to enter the iFrame.

"I don't think sustainability was the driving thing for me," he told ABC Radio Sydney.

"There was very little waste involved, but it was really more about where food comes from, where you are in a food system.

"To some extent, testing the ability to do it."

The only exception to the rules were 10 ingredients which Mr Brown bought at the beginning of his challenge, including olive oil, wine, coffee, milk and a staple such as oats.

Everything else he either grew, fished or shot himself on managed grazing land or bush blocks.

He raised chickens in the backyard for eggs and kept an urban bee hive.

"I ate a lot of meat. I'd go hunting and shoot five goats and that would last me for awhile."

A 'tedious' challenge

The only time Mr Brown gave himself a break or broke his fast — what he called the "Ramadan rule" — was when he was sick or was at a conference for work.

Mr Brown is a consultant archaeologist working in Aboriginal cultural heritage management.

"It started out as so much fun, but six months on ... the hardest thing was the tedium," he said.

"There's no choice about what there is. If there was rabbit stew and sweet potato today, that's all there is.

"There's no getting up if you're hungry and getting a sandwich."

Mr Brown said it was often difficult seeing his partner and son adding, for example, cheese to a frittata he made from eggs and greens from the backyard when he wasn't able to eat it himself.

The vegetable patch at Oliver Brown's Maroubra house
Mr Brown would swap his home-grown produce with neighbours or food co-ops.

Supplied: Oliver Brown

Making food from scratch

Mr Brown said living off the land was "a lot of work".

He would spend an extra two to three hours a day foraging in the garden to harvest produce, then have to make all his food from scratch, including grinding wheat.

However, he also became involved in food co-ops and bartered his produce with neighbours or other food growers, which was the most enjoyable aspect of the experience.

Skip Instagram Post

FireFox NVDA users - To access the following content, press 'M' to enter the iFrame.

Mr Brown said he was surprised by the number of people growing their own food around the city and encouraged others to do the same.

Despite surviving a year without stepping foot into a supermarket, Mr Brown said he wasn't planning on keeping up with the challenge in its entirety.

"I went hunting a few times but I couldn't take my son and I'd like to do more camping with him," he said.

"So if he comes, I'll need to buy some extra food to sustain us."

Mr Brown said he planned to continue being active in the local food network by bartering and swapping produce from his backyard with others.