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It's been a while. We're in the throes of the most productive time of year at the farm, harvesting tons of heirloom tomatoes and greens (among other things) and preparing for the quickly approaching autumn growing season. We've been hustling to get all of our farm goodies sold and distributed to CSA members but in my scarce free time I've been working on migrating Brooklyn Homesteader over to a new website that is no longer specific to Brooklyn since, well...I no longer live there.
So, as a result I created a page dedicated to the projects I'm working on, including teaching and farm events. The book I have been working on for an eternity will be out soon! Next season, I'll be tackling management of the farm by myself so it should be quite a ride! Please consider adding the new blog (which I've imported most of the content from this site to!) and following me on this crazy journey.
p.s. Big ups to McKenzie over at Oliver and Abraham's for designing my banner and buttons!
This holiday season, give the gift of a badass essential skill! Brooklyn Homesteader is now offering gift certificates for any of our online or farm-based workshops! We've been teaching for nearly 4 years at institutions like The New York Botanical Garden and 3rd Ward. We've taught private workshops during that same time as well!
We're offering classes on beekeeping, sustainable gardening, backyard poultry, and more! We're adding new classes every week! Classes on mushroom foraging and cultivation, raising dairy goats and intro to herbal medicine! Year-long passes ($225/ 12 months) and couples certificates (half off yr partners!) available as well!
All of our classes utilize strong visual presentations, hands-on activities and take-home references for continued study!
So help support the farm and give your friends and family members the gift of living a more sustainable, hands-on life!
I'm sitting at Carton Brewery right now...the closest place with power and wifi to where the farm is. The've been kind enough to open up their tasting room to neighbors to come juice up their devices and check email. It's quite nice here, the air is filled with that boggy smell of wort bubbling. It's warm, and the lights are on. I feel a bit feral in this room after a week of living in the dark, no music, no creature comforts save for a few woolen blankets and pots of bean and venison stew.
This week in darkness makes me realize that I am certainly no luddite. I miss the convenience of electricity and technology but I sure as shit would like it if I could come by it on my own terms, because counting on someone else to provide it for me is the pits!
Fingers crossed that I have power soon. My final manuscript for the bee book I've been working on for over a year is due. After that, I start figuring out how to avoid this sort of scenario in the future.
As modern folks, many of us have that one website that we click to habitually for updates. Maybe you're addicted to friends Facebook status updates, or a message board of some sort. I've got a website of my own that I'm hooked on. It's the blog of author and young farmer Jenna Woginrich. Her homestead, Cold Antler Farm boasts a small flock of Black-faced Scottish sheep, two draft ponies, a menagerie of poultry and rabbits, working dogs and two dairy goats. She's been documenting her journey as a beginning farmer for years now, hosting events at her Washington County paradise year-round. She's got an impressive list of DIY books to her name. Jenna's been a huge inspiration to me, she's a force to be reckoned with.
Jenna's writing stands apart from many of the other homesteading blogs out there, which is why I love it so much. Her depiction is a romantic portrayal of farm life, sure, but she articulates her day to day life in a way that lacks the fluff and polish that some other blogs fall victim to. It is more robustly appreciative, even through the hardships she inevitably faces as the solitary steward of her farm. The boils and scars are all there for us to see. It's fascinating and there is much to learn from her experiences. So check out her blog, read on below. I'm certain you'll be clicking to check in on her as much as I do.
I've always been very impressed with your ability to juggle the daily maintenance of your farm, a full-time job (up until recently, when you took the courageous leap into self-employment) and manage to be a very prolific writer. Do you have any advice out there to the folks who struggle to find the time to follow their passion and also keep their everyday life in check? Possibly even some organizational tips?
I think my own secret to success is 100% unadultarated stubbornness. I made up my mind I wanted a certain type of life and went for it, blinders on. My advice is simple: prioritize what matters most to you as far as goals go and make sure every single day you are doing something to work towards that. If you want to be a farmer, for example, plant a seed today. Maybe in a few weeks you'll have a started plant you could sell to a coworker? See, that there is farming. It is possible in the middle of an apartment or on 500 acres. The proximity to land has nothing to do with it, your drive does.
As a writer, what do you think was the most difficult obstacle overcome? Correct me if I'm wrong, but you didn't go to school for writing, you just took to it naturally. When did you begin to feel like you were coming into your own as a writer? Was there one moment in particular that it dawned on you that you were, in fact, a writer and not simply an author?
I never took any sort of real writing classes, just the basic English and Composition style classes my high school and college offered. I went to school for graphic design, and always considered myself more of an artist than a writer. But as I moved around the country I found that writing was what centered and grounded me, it kept me in contact with family and friends, journaled my adventures, and made my life feel more one of myth. I wrote because I couldn't help it, and I think that's what really makes you a writer: not degrees and classes.
There's a certain contingent that sees the sort of lifestyle that you or I lead as sort of precious, overly romanticized and kind of unrealistic for the average person. What do you say to that?
I say they are right. My life is overly romanticized, extremely precious, and totally unrealistic. Which is exactly why I live it! You get one chance at this world and if you bought the chump story reality and peer approval are the same thing, you're in for a long, boring ride.
Can you describe to me your first experience raising an animal for slaughter? How did you choose what sort of livestock to raise for consumption? What was your first preparation of the meat?
My first animal I raised to eat was a Thanksgiving Turkey, America's favorite animal sacrifice! But I was a vegetarian at the time, well, a vegetarian on the edge. I didn't eat meat because I didn't want to support factory farms, but when I moved to Vermont I realized I could raise some of my own and wanted to start with that turkey. From day one it was food, not a pet and I named him TD. I never got attached or had a personal struggle with it. I am a firm believer in evolution and ecology's plan for us omnivores. I watched him die at a local outdoor poultry operation, get de-feathered and gutted and took him home in a plastic bag. He was 28 pounds dressed!!!! I felt nothing but pride and gratitude. I think it was the first Thanksgiving I ever actually understood the holiday, truthfully. But of course, my family was grossed out any my sister refused to eat turkey "she knew was an animal" and it ended up being traded for sheepdog herding lessons to another farmer. So it goes...
How has your perspective on life and death changed after several years of witnessing it, up close and personal at Cold Antler Farm. Has it affected your attitude towards your own mortality?
You can't farm and not think about life differently. Every day I am surround by life and death, blood and sex, dirt and seed. To those people who think my life is a precious escape from reality, I say to them to come to a hog butchering day or lambing pen in full swing. There is a visceral change that happens when the smell of opened pig intestines and placenta become as memorable as lavender and honey (though not anywhere near as pleasant). It took a few years but I am learning that these perceived "bad" things like offal and birthing, slaughter and finding dead chicks drowned in a watering trough are just part of the farm's story. There is so much life here, always thriving, but that means the opposite is here too. I guess to summarize: death went from being a character in life to a partner. I do not fear my own death, I just worry my body won't be used for its best purpose: to compost down and feed the soil that has fed me all these years.
What do you envision your farm (and your career as a writer, for that matter) to look like in 5 years? Is there anything you hope to learn or master in that amount of time?
I hope to be growing more as an artist and a farmer. I want to work more land, involve more people, and learn to really work with border collies as a team. I hope to become a better rider and driver of my horse, and future horses, too. And most of all I want to keep helping other people find and love this life I live here at CAF. Getting people started on this path is my favorite thing.
If you were to guess, what is your spirit animal?
I'm a fast, fast dog.
Never in my life have I ever felt more confident in my ability to teach. After nearly 5 years of delivering instruction on various DIY/ backyard farming subjects, I am really starting to come into my own. It all started with beekeeping, teaching that first class at 3rd Ward, then other more academic versions of my beekeeping and gardening courses at The New York Botanical Gardens popped up with a little help from friends. I felt I was out of my league in those classrooms, but I made it through those first sessions and I resolved to get better at it. Sometimes some enthusiasm and a little bit of know-how can make up for raggedy presentation.
Fortunately for my students, my presentation has improved. I've taught classes online, which require presentation to be seamless Urban Beekeeping 101 and Intro to Gardening Small Spaces have done well, giving folks outside of the New York City metro area a chance to learn about homesteading topics wherever they are. The classes are even recorded for playback convenience. Pretty spiffy, huh?
My favorite method of teaching though, is through hands on demonstration. Most recently, we hosted a mushroom workshop here at the farm and it was easily one of the best classes I've taught. We spent hours combing through the nearby woods, meandering the trails and talking about fungi and farming. We came home with arms full of mushrooms that we cooked and ate for lunch with a spicy salad from the garden and fresh goat cheese. It was glorious. At the end of the day, students left with mushroom log kits, and bags full of hens, chickens and blewits. It was a great day and I feel as though everyone left with knowledge and a perspective they may not have had before. It made me feel really proud and exceptionally glad to be in a position to share what I know.
I'm hoping to ride that high into our next class on the schedule: Homesteading Bootcamp on October 27th. This is a day of intense introduction to all manner of homesteading activities. It's one of my favorites, and quite frankly at $100 a ticket I think it's a steal.
Here's how this bootcamp goes down:
Students arrive for a tour of the farm at 9 am for coffee and pastries. Introductions are made and everyone gets comfortable, allowing time for anybody taking the ferry to arrive.
Once that is out of the way and everyone is settled, it's down to business. There's a lot of information to cover in one day. We'll start with Gardening basics; finding a location for your garden, types of garden beds and cultivation techniques, crop selection and planting schematics. After that, composting and a bit of foraging for wild edibles (mushrooms are in season in a big way around here!) We'll move on to raising livestock like chickens, rabbits for eggs, meat and manure, and there will be a very brief intro to dairy goats. We'll go inside for a bit to make some yogurt and chevre from our recently harvested goat milk. We'll eat a vegetarian lunch and then get back in the saddle, moving onto fermentation (sauerkraut, hot sauce, pickles) and canning. A beekeeping presentation will take place in my living room, so prepare yourself for cuddles from my fat cat Myra.
There will be some time at the end of the day for Q&A, feel free to bring a libation of choice if you'd like.
Classes like these are what will keep this farm operational during the winter. It's the only product I have to sell to keep the animals fed and cared for and to keep a roof over our collective heads. There is no consulting, no beekeeping, no honey during the cold months of the year. Just me peddling my big mouth. I'm shaking what god gave me.
Come spring, we'll have our CSA up and running, markets to attend and even more hands on workshops for DIY enthusiasts to participate in with more expert speakers (think intensive dairy goat workshops, shellfish farming, agroforestry, hunting, etc), but right now, it's never been more important for my readership to come and support the farm. So, if any of these classes seem intriguing to you, consider signing up. My online workshop calendar is going to be filling up with more topics all winter long so keep checking for new workshops HERE!
One of the truest friends I've ever had, my cat Huxley, died yesterday morning at home. The past 24 hours have been tremendously difficult for me but I promise to be back tomorrow with som updates on the new goats, farm progress and perhaps a little bit about Huxley and what happened to him. He was a big part of what this farm was supposed to be and I am completely at a loss for what to do with this massive empty space he left behind.
Thank you for bearing with me, folks. My heart is broken.
Hey there, readers!
It's pretty weird to think about, but I've been blogging here at Brooklyn Homesteader for over 3 years and readership has grown steadily over that period, getting hundreds of hits daily. It's quite a change from when I first started. I meet people often that tell me they read the blog and it always floors me. It's an honor to have the opportunity to share my experiences with you all and I hope to continue to do so for a long time.
Anyway, as a result of our growing audience Neil and I will be modifying the website this fall to reflect the changes that have taken place here recently...namely the move, the inclusion of Michael's contributions and also opportunities for local businesses and friends to support the new farm via sponsorships, CSA shares, class enrollment and purchases of non-perishable farm goods. (think beeswax candles, dried herbs and tinctures, salves, goat milk soap, honey, etc.)
For now, I'll be offering a limited number of very reasonably priced 125×125 banners to select businesses, blogs, and organizations at 6 month or yearly rates or for barter (think farm supplies)! We've already got a few of my favorite Brooklyn-based businesses on board so far (come Sept, you can click and visit them!) so please get in touch and I'll gladly send some information your way.
Thanks so much for following me on this journey!
This weekend I managed to run into an old beekeeping acquaintance named Deb Romano who is based further south from me in Brooklyn. She and her son Mike offered me two 4 week old chickens to add to my flock, which I happily accepted. When I went by to pick them up I got the grand tour of their wonderful Park Slope home. I was most impressed by their beautiful garden, lush and brimming over with sweet blooms and tender greens ready to be harvested. Deb has quite a gift with growing things...I shrunk a little when I thought of my own home garden and how neglected it has become.
Anyway, as we were talking bees, Deb led me indoors out of the heat to offer me a gift of something she had been making for some time, milk bottle cap earrings. They are just too fantastic for me not to share. I love that these are so distinctive and farmy but really lightweight and versatile. I wore them all day in my overalls and a ratty old t-shirt but managed to feel surprisingly cute in spite of the film of funk clinging to me.
You can view more styles on her Etsy page. She's got an amazing collection so all you dairy enthusiasts and antique collector-types out there have look and support!
The summery weather has me thirsty. For beer.
Yesterday I stopped by a favorite haunt, Brooklyn Homebrew, with one goal in mind: five gallons of hoppy, summery pale ale. I sometimes dream of cooking up something crazy in my cauldron, like a black ale, or a lager, but I always end up sticking to a good old IPA or, if it's dead-hot summer, a saison. This time around the Brooklyn Homebrew's house recipe pale ale sounded mighty fine, so I gave it a go. It's a partial mash, meaning some grain and some malt extract; I prefer these to all extract brews because they taste better, and they're a lot easier and less fussy than all-grain.
I learned to homebrew from the man himself, Uncle Charlie. Charlie Papazian's book, The Complete Joy of Home Brewing, is known as the homebrewer's bible. It's the perfect book for complete beginners, but it also includes more advanced stuff to delve into over time. Highly recommended. But there are lots of free resources out there online, too. One of my favorites is a forum called HomeBrewTalk, which has lots of info and lots of wisdom for grasshoppers.
In my opinion, one of the best parts about learning from Uncle Charlie is his mantra, RDWHAHB... Relax. Don't worry. Have a homebrew.
Believe me, it really comes in handy. There are lots of moving parts in homebrewing: temperatures to keep an eye on, time to keep an eye on, sanitizing to do to just about everything, did I just add the aroma hops instead of the bittering hops... it can be easy to get flustered, and something(s) will always go wrong-ish. But luckily, barring complete catastrophe, even if you make mistakes here and there your brew will turn out just fine. Trust me. I've had a carboy volcanically erupt in my bedroom... but what was left ended up being pretty tasty.
Why go through the trouble? HB'ing is a great hobby that pays dividends and gives good buzz. You can spend buttloads on fancy equipment or use pretty much all salvaged stuff, and either way turn out great beer. It comes in handy when you can't afford the good stuff as often as you'd like, or when all you've got for options in the neighborhood are InBev brands. And it's fun!
Well, without further ado, here's my home brew how to, photo-essay style.
Happy Humpday, y'all!
Bing's Summer of Doing campaign is in full swing, and the word of the day is "Yarnbombing". I'm their expert in DIY-ing this week so each day I'll be posting tips on each word of the day, Spotify playlists, recommendations, Instagram photos and more!
Search the term HERE using the new socially integrated Bing and enter for a chance to win prizes ranging from Skillshare credit to your own DIY homebrew and cheese kits! Sweet!
Also check out the DIYing Pinterest board for inspiration for your next yardbombing project! Stay tuned for more DIYing throughout the week!