Editor’s Note: Can You Dig It? is a new series by former Brooklynites Meg Paska and Mike Meier, two urban turned suburban farmers working the lands at The Homestead at Seven Arrows on the Navesink River.
It’s not often that a city dweller risks it all to become a farmer, but it happens from time to time. A year ago, if you had told my farm partners Michael, Neil and I that we’d leave New York City to build a small homestead on the New Jersey shore, I don’t think we would have believed you. We might have chuckled and made a fist pump joke. Awkwardly, we’d have changed the subject to our undying love of little Hakurei turnips or what heritage breed of chicken works best in a backyard in Queens. But there would be no listening. There’s no way we were moving to New Jersey, so why even entertain the conversation?
After all, we were all living in Brooklyn and working on urban farming projects that we were proud of. Michael was the farm manager at Brooklyn Grange, the world’s largest commercial rooftop farm. I was keeping bees for restaurateurs like Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich and teaching urban farming workshops at The New York Botanical Gardens and 3rd Ward. We were working hard doing the things we love and in our increasingly scarce free time we were rewarded with drink and food at some of the best bars and restaurants I’ve ever frequented. We were projectiled towards our goals by the frenetic momentum that New York is so famous for. Life was pretty excellent from where we were all standing. But then something happened.
Both Michael and I, for different reasons, grew hungry for more. We began to feel the limitations of our current situations and the burning desire to expand on what we had learned, to build on what we had taught ourselves and gleaned from our peers. Growing market crops on a rooftop and maintaining a backyard farm were wonderful experiences but there were aspects of agriculture out there waiting to be explored. Dairy goats, foraging, permaculture, grain production…the list went on and on. There were so many new things we wanted to do that trying to accomplish them in Brooklyn felt a little too much like forcing a square peg into a round hole. As people who thrived on learning, we felt that we had hit a wall. It was time to move on to greener pastures.
The challenge of a realization like the one we had is that the next step is finding a suitable place to bring your dream to fruition. A year previously, I had been farming up in the picturesque Catskill Mountains. I knew then that I wanted to start my own farm, one where I had creative freedom to build a system of livestock and market crops that complemented one another and kept me fed and happy. I began looking in upstate New York, because I had learned the area and had a fondness for it. When nothing materialized, a new opportunity fell into my lap.
The world is a small place. A friend farming in Portugal contacted me to share what he had been up to. The conversation meandered until we landed on the topic of a small yoga retreat just an hour from where I lived. That retreat just so happened to be in New Jersey, on the Navesink River in the Locust section of Middletown. A mutual high school friend had taken up management over it and they were looking for someone to farm the 20 acres the retreat sat upon. He encouraged me to contact them, which I promptly did. Six months and countless meetings later, Neil and I were on the farm, beginning construction on the outbuildings that would house our goats, ducks and chickens. A few months later, Michael was packing his bags to come and join us. We’re all here now, on a riverfront parcel surrounded by woods, and we couldn’t be more confident about our choice to leave the city that had been so good to us.
Spring is nearly here. We’re poised to kick off our first growing season at The Homestead at Seven Arrows. We’ve cultivated the fields, our chickens and ducks have just begun to lay eggs. Our seed flats and hoop house are waiting to be filled with thousands of little seedlings. The bones of our farm are all in place. We are not fearful. We’re equipped with all we need to make this work. And we will. We must. Our community has already shown it’s faith in us by giving our CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) their patronage. We cannot let them down.
The community in coastal New Jersey, we’ve learned, is one of great quality. We’ve been shown such generosity by everyone whose paths we’ve crossed. Now, we’ve been invited to share our experiences here on The Anchor, an opportunity we feel very honored to have. Here, you’ll hear stories from time-to-time about what farm life by the shore is like. We’ll share some recipes for the seasonal crops we’re harvesting, Do-It-Yourself guides, updates on farm events and workshops, pictures of our livestock, and lots of other fun stuff. We hope that you’ll enjoy them, perhaps find them informative and maybe even inspirational enough to start your own garden, or apiary or menagerie of backyard chickens. There are so many ways to be more involved in the most essential aspects of being alive. Nearly all of them just happen to be really fun too. We aim to encourage the readership here at The Anchor to dig right in and bridge the gap between the field and their plate in whatever way seems practical. Whether it’s starting a beehive on their roof or buying a meat share from a local farm, starting a compost pile or growing some lettuces on the deck. The connection to soil and sun and blood are an essential part of who we are and where we come from. We should be ashamed to let go of them without a fight.
With that, we’ve got to ask: Can you dig it? We hope that you can.
Photo at top: Meg Paska and Michael Meier