Megan Paska (perhaps better known as the Brooklyn Homesteader) has an impressive bio to back up her expertise on modern homesteading: She grew up around gardens and continued with the practice when she moved to Brooklyn in 2006; now, she’s made the leap to running her own farm. Now, she does everything from beekeeping and gardening to canning and brewing–and teaches other people how to do it, too. But modern homesteading and DIY can seem like a lot to take on for anyone who’s struggling to stay on top of work, family, chores–and fitting in a workout here and there. So we asked Megan more about what she does–and why you should try it, too.
I think “homesteading” conjures images of serious, off-the-grid hippies for a lot of people. Can you explain what exactly it is, and who does/can do it?
Modern homesteading refers to a lifestyle in which individuals or entire households take a more hands-on approach to everyday life. From eating food that you’ve grown, to knitting your own socks, building your own home, to raising goats for your own milk. Homesteading is about independence, self-reliance…whatever you want to call it, it’s very empowering and you never stop learning.
What are some unexpected lessons you’ve learned from homesteading?
One of the most profound things that I’ve learned is that there isn’t much I cannot do if I put my mind to it. People tell themselves that often but I don’t think they give themselves the opportunity to prove themselves right. I had a lot of confidence issues as a young adult and as I grew older and looked back at all of the things that I did that I told everyone I was going to do, I started to feel pretty good about the kind of person I had become.
A lot of the things you teach–gardening, beekeeping, home-brewing, etc.–seem like fun hobbies, but too much trouble for someone who just wants to eat some veg/beer/honey. Why make your own when you can buy from stores?
I don’t think it’s possible to really understand the value of products like the ones you mentioned above unless you’ve given it a try. You get a whole new perspective on what goes down to get that damned fine beer that you love to drink into the bottle and onto the shelf. Food you’ve grown tends to taste a lot better when it’s fresh from the garden or fresh from the oven. It makes sense. It’s fresher, more vibrant and it’s got a part of you in it. Why wouldn’t anyone rather eat that way every day?
That being said, I certainly support other small businesses by buying some of their good so that I can try something that is out of my range of expertise or to give myself a break.
You live on a farm, but you’ve also lived in Brooklyn–what are the most worthwhile homesteading projects someone living in an urban environment can undertake?
When I lived in Brooklyn, one of the things I loved to do is can, pickle, ferment, make jams of pretty much anything I could get ahold of. If you live in a place with no outdoor space, sign up for a local CSA and put up some of the excess veg that comes every week.
I think most of us, especially apartment-dwellers, tend to give up on thoughts of gardening until spring. What can we do over the winter aside from crack into the stuff we pickled over summer?
You can grow salad greens (try spicy mustards, pea shoots, baby lettuces, or curly cress) in a window sill or even grow oyster mushrooms in espresso grounds in a partially shaded, cool part of your yard or apartment. Sprouting grains and seeds is really easy too. Try your hand at making fresh cheese or duck prosciutto. All of these projects are fun, easy and will likely open the floodgates to more DIY food related projects at home.
If Megan’s advice has you fired up (and you live near New Jersey), we highly recommend that you check out her homesteading bootcamp this weekend. If you can’t make it, check out her other workshops and classes; some are online!
Photo: Alanna Gladstone