Monday, July 2, 2012

A Bee Grows in Brooklyn

"Part of her life was made from the tree growing rankly in the yard... She was all of these things and of something more." -Betty Smith, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

            Wow! I can’t believe it’s been almost two weeks since I’ve written an entry. My housing arrangement here in Brooklyn involves dog-sitting for a sweet chow-lab named Guinness, and this whole past week poor Guinness has been sick. This involved a lot of walks, a vet trip, and careful monitoring, so with that and other random crises (such as the death of my phone and a broken doorknob that got me locked inside the house) I wasn’t able to do much besides plan and read. This post will be about the awesome events before that, however!

Meeting Meg Paska

            Since I started researching for this project in the spring, I’ve come to know of a lot of public figures in the New York City beekeeping scene. Some of them have blogs, and through those blogs I feel like I’ve gotten to know these people a little bit. One of my favorite blogs is Brooklyn Homesteader, by urban cultivator Meg Paska. I like her blog because she’s got an optimistic and peaceful perspective, straightforward style, and her life is full of things worth reading about (even for non-farmers like myself). So when I returned to Hayseed’s, her pop-up farm supply store in Greenpoint, I was enthusiastic to meet her. 

Meg at Hayseed's. Photo: Brooklyn Homesteader
Bee tattoo on Meg's forearm. Photo: Brooklyn Homesteader

           Meg is young, friendly, tattooed, and she’s one of the few women in a male-dominated industry. I caught up with her in the Hayseed’s garden on one of their last days of the season, and while I was talking to her, she didn’t stop working. She bustled around the garden, picking off cabbage leaves that were afflicted with mold and spraying them with an all-natural pesticide before the huge thunderstorm that was rolling in imminently let loose. We talked about how unfortunate it is that some NYC beekeepers just can’t seem to get along and how ego competitions obscure the point, especially to the media. She made another interesting point about journalistic interest (including bloggers and researchers like myself): while some attention-seeking beekeepers bask in the interviews and newspaper articles, others like Meg find it exasperating. “It’s like they think they’re doing me a favor by interviewing me,” she said, when really she wishes they would just let her do her work. Proper ethnographers must struggle with this like I have, trying to get inside and learn a culture without invading or getting in the way. From my experience, the better someone is at doing something and the more integral they are to the system, the less time they have to talk to an undergrad like me. I don’t take it personally, and I’m glad they’re so committed to their work. 

From the street looking in at Hayseed's

Beekeeping supplies at Hayseed's

            After the thunderstorm broke, we moved inside to the store and continued our informal interview. Meg was in the middle of showing me some necklaces a friend made of her bees encased in resin, when another Hayseed’s employee ran up to us. “You met your goal!” she shouted, beaming. For the past month, Meg has been raising money on the website Kickstarter to build the Homestead at Seven Arrows, an educational farm and CSA in Locust, NJ. She needed $20,000 to build the infrastructure like barns and fencing, and while I was there, Seven Arrows met its goal. One person donated $10,000, doubling the project’s funding to over $20,000. 

  After that, our talk of bees and legislation was joyfully interrupted, and Meg invited me to the back room of Hayseed’s to share a Pork Slap pale ale with the rest of the crew, and so I sat in a worn wooden chair, celebrating with them in the mist blowing through the open barn doors. We talked a little more, but I shortly felt that I was overstaying my welcome in this intimate moment between Meg and her crew, so I bought some goods at closeout prices and as I walked out the door, the rain stopped. 

My purchases at Hayseed's (all 30% for the end of the season): A necklace with one of Meg's bees encased in resin, a packet of rooftop ready marigold seeds (two packets, actually), and Greenhorns edited by Zoe Ida Bradbury.

            It was exhilarating to meet someone who I consider a role model under those joyous circumstances. It was great to be there for that moment, even if it did feel a little intrusive. I learned less that day about the technicalities of city beekeeping, but more about the constant effort and tenacity it takes to cultivate, whether it’s vegetables, rabbits, mushrooms, bees, or project funding and public interest. Meg Paska is a cultivator of all of those things, and for that I respect her and sincerely congratulate her on achieving and surpassing her funding for the Homestead at Seven Arrows. 

1 comment:

  1. Whooa Kate~ you are doing some righteous work. the idea of urban beekeeping has my head spinning. didn't know it existed! thanks for the mindblower. keep on keepin on :)