Meet the man who lived without money

How an encounter with The Moneyless Man, aka Mark Boyle, led our editor Katie Roche to The Food Assembly.

“Money is a matter of belief,” says Mark, quoting the father of modern day economics Adam Smith. To show what he means, Mark often burns a £10 note. Then, afterwards, he burns a piece of birch bark.

“What’s the difference between a piece of birch bark and a £10 note? It’s a symbol and because of that symbol some people live luxuriously and some people starve to death,” explains Mark.

If it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t be writing this article nor would you be reading it. My encounters with Mark Boyle, aka The Moneyless Man, led me on a journey to where I am now. Not that I am living cashless, foraging my own food, or using the Daily Mail as loo paper (he actually did), but because of Mark I left my career in journalism to reevaluate where I was going.

Ask the Irish man why he gave up money and you won’t get a simple answer. What motivated Mark was the injustice of this planet. If you think about all the world’s problems – poverty, climate change, inequality – Mark believes they all link back to money, either too much or too little of it.

“In my view, the key reason for so many problems in the world today, such as ecological destruction, sweatshops and factory farming, is the fact that we no longer have to see the direct repercussions of our actions.”

“The degree of separation between the consumer and the consumed has increasingly widened, to the point that we are now completely unaware of the problems caused in the production of food and other ‘stuff’ we buy.”

What Mark Boyle demonstrates is that often life is an illusion and it’s OK to step outside it sometimes. If we all shopped, ate, lived each day without thinking of the impact we have, the world would be a sad and sorry place.

My illusion was that journalism was the best way to tell the truth and create change. I thought journalism had the power to change the world. With so many wonderful inspiring people doing groundbreaking things in Ireland, not one Irish newspaper dedicated space to these stories. No environmental section! So editors weren’t interested and most went unreported. What little I managed to publish had to have a sensational factor – enter Mark Boyle, the man who lived without money for 2.5 years.

Mark began to live his moneyless life on a Somerset farm, near Timsbury, exchanging a few days work for the right to park his caravan (which he got for free) in the farm’s orchard. The last item he bought was a solar panel, which powered his laptop while he wrote his first book, The Moneyless Man, and communicated his the experiment online to the world at large.

To prepare for a cashless life, Mark wrote a list of everything he consumed, “which, to be honest, was embarrassingly long,” he says. Then for those things that he couldn’t cull from his life he had to find solutions, so he learned new skills, bartered and did skills exchanges.

Day-to-day life was a challenge and led to the most primal of tasks like cutting wood and foraging food. Mark cycled 36 miles on his bike and trailer to the city of Bristol, often in the worst weather. He bathed in a river, cooked on a rocket stove, and his toothpaste was made from washed-up cuttlefish bones and fennel seeds. He used beeswax candles for lighting.

While he grew most of his own food, he’d also go skipping. One day Mark found 700 jars of organic fairtrade chocolate spread, which was retailed at £3 in one skip. It was like £2,100 worth of chocolate spread.

“One of the most common things you find in skips is bread. The reason is because it’s not made anymore. If you make your own bread, if you knead it, spend time making it and putting it in the oven, you won’t waste it. If you pick it up for 20p at the supermarket, you don’t really give a shit if it goes out of date.”

My interview with Mark led to a Sunday Times feature, which was a lovely thing to open on a Sunday morning. Not long after, I travelled to the West of Ireland to help build his new ‘moneyless land-based village’. In return, I received a lesson in cob building.

A few months later he introduced me to a friend of his who was writing for The Food Assembly – to cut a long story short, that encounter lead me to where I am now, writing for The Food Assembly about things I feel really matter.

About a week ago I had an email from Mark: “for various reasons I’ll not bore you with, I’m leaving the land of screens and industry and speed and manufactured schedules soon, to try to live in a way that feels more intimate and connected to place and the natural way of things.”

I read it amazed and remembered two paragraphs that The Sunday Times edited out:

“What we now term ‘economic growth’ is simply the conversion of our social, cultural and spiritual commons into money. Soil, music, education, hospitality and health – we are even having debates about financial value of motherhood and the planet. Child care, looking after the elderly, entertainment; we’re paying for things that used to be free.

“It’s no less daft than me charging a tree for the nitrogen in my urine when I pee under it, and then the tree invoicing me for the oxygen supply in my lungs.”


Katie Roche

Katie Roche

Katie is editor of The Food Assembly blog. She enjoys writing about community, food, sustainability and how it all fits together.