When I mention to folks that I keep bees, grow vegetables and have a small flock of hens that produce the best eggs ever, all in the backyard of my Brooklyn home, they seem surprised and a little confused. "Why don't you just go live on a farm somewhere instead of the city. It seems like you'd be happier there, no?"
It's an honest question, but there is a big difference between what I am doing and being a real farmer. Truth be told, I consider myself a glorified gardener. I am a hobbyist. My activities certainly haven't resulted in a salary, health benefits and 401k. Hell, I'd be happy if I made minimum wage working in my backyard. That would be pretty cool.
The reason why I started to involve myself is some of the most un-NYCentric activities started before I even lived here. I gardened a lot in my hometown of Baltimore, MD. My ex was a Zen practitioner and through him I learned that laboring outdoors can be one of the easiest ways to get out of your own head. Random "thoughting" was a big issue for me and I'd find myself dwelling on negative aspects of my life or just drifting off into some dream world to get a moments peace. Gardening brought me back to Earth literally and figuratively and gave me a sense of control over my emotional well-being. It became a tool in healing my own mind and heart, but didn't hurt that you got to experience food in it's most vibrant and lively state.
When I moved to Brooklyn I knew I was going to have to find a new way to channel this revelation into my new life. It would be difficult for sure. Most of the apartments I looked at were cramped with no backyard access. At the time I found the parks kind of anemic and sad (I moved here in the winter so my assessment was obviously unfair and kind of stupid.) I eventually moved into a place in Greenpoint that was owned by a family who weren't too keen on sharing their yard but just a couple of weeks after moving in we were notified via Xerox copy under the door that they were selling the building. Panic and anger transitioned slowly into elation as the new owners of the building, Katrina and Erica, invited me to stay in the building. They opened up access to the backyard, the roof and work space in the basement. I had struck gold. These people had single-handedly ensured that I could live in NYC and not totally lose my mind.
That first spring, Katrina and Erica made a plan to build raised beds in the backyard so that we can work in totally clean soil and compost, avoiding the underground oil spill just outside of our part of Greenpoint. They made them extra tall to ensure that Erica's rascally, but lovable dog Bernie couldn't jump in and dig holes in our veggies. They are a little extreme at first glance but they are quite functional and you can garden standing up, which is really nice and easy on the back. We grew tomatoes, beans, spinach and radishes that first year. We started our compost pile. We made lots of mistakes but we had fun doing it.
After our first growing season I asked them if I could keep bees on the roof. There was no hesitation. "Yes! We love local honey. Let's do it!"
The most recent addition to our backyard garden project are our four kick-ass hens. This was more difficult to sell to my already very accommodating landlords, but once I was able to visually demonstrate how little odor they produce, how generally quiet they are and how wonderful it would be to have fresh eggs every day, it was no longer doubted. ( I did this by taking Katrina to my friend Martha's (link) apartment in Cobble Hill, where she also keeps 3 hens.) We quickly converted Bernie's virtually unused doghouse into a cozy insulated coop, ordered our day-old chicks and we haven't looked back since.
(Photo by Katrina Mauro)
I'm coming up on my fourth year living at what I refer to as "Jewel Street Paradise". We've had grand successes and some unfortunate failures but all in all this little city oasis bolstered the quality of not only my life, but the lives of my landlords, friends and neighbors. When you partake on endeavors such as these you are endowed with a real sense of abundance, and in that you find an overwhelming desire to share with those around you.
So with that, welcome to BrooklynHomesteader.com. I hope that sharing my gardening, cooking, beekeeping, animal husbandry and homemaking experiences will give many of you the confidence and inspiration to take on any and all of the projects you dream of.
As always, other perspectives are always welcome. If you'd like to share your experiences, please email a story idea to Megan@BrooklynHomesteader.com.
Thanks for visiting, and ENJOY!