New Agtivist: Meg Paska runs Brooklyn’s first urban farm pop-up
It’s a dreamy combination of hipster clichés: an urban farming-themed pop-up store made of salvaged materials. In Brooklyn. Maybe that’s why, when Hayseed’s Big City Farm Supply opened at the beginning of April, founder Meg Paska thought, “We’re going to get mocked.” But mockery did not ensue; instead, an enthusiastic community response showed that Paska was on to something with this small, seasonal shop catering to the needs of people growing food and raising animals in the city.
Paska, who blogs about her own backyard garden, chicken coop, and beehive at Brooklyn Homesteader, started Hayseed’s with the folks who run Brooklyn Grange, a rooftop farm in Queens. The store will be around until early July in a space Paska rented from the design studio Domestic Construction. We chatted with Paska recently about the project.
Q. How did Hayseed’s Big City Farm Supply come together?
A. My business partners and I both kind of have our own urban farm things going on. We were talking one night over beers, and we both admitted that we had thought about opening a farm store. But we were concerned about retail spaces being really expensive. We kept our ears to the ground and hoped that something would present itself, and it did. A bunch of friends of mine had posted a Kickstarter campaign for a design studio a few blocks from my house. They were going to try and save the lot next to their studio and turn it into an urban farm. I asked them how they would feel about hosting a pop-up store, and they were really into the idea. Their studio is in a big mechanic’s garage. They rented out the front space to us and then actually built out a storefront with pallets and old wood. We didn’t spend a single cent on materials; they built it all with salvaged objects.
Q. Why did you see the need for a place like Hayseed’s?
A. As someone who raises chickens for eggs, I struggled to find quality feed at a reasonable price. I am really into a small feed company in Virginia called Countryside Organics, but when you have the feed shipped it doubles the price. There are a lot of other people who raise chickens in the five boroughs here, and they were experiencing that same thing. I started posting on the Just Food City Chicken meetup group’s message board asking who would want to go in on ordering a full pallet [of feed]. The response was overwhelming.
Getting straw and hay delivered to Brooklyn is nearly impossible. It’s difficult to find places to dump bulk loads of soil and stuff, too. Most people don’t want to have a big pile of manure-based compost dumped into their [yard]. We’ve been fortunate this season that the gals at Domestic Construction allowed the use of their lot to do this. We’ve gone through about 60 cubic yards of soil in the month and a half that we’ve been open.
Q. As someone who was doing urban farming on her own, what’s it like to connect to the community through this project?
A. When you’re in the store and you have people coming in asking questions all the time, it makes you realize how much you know, and how much you don’t know. It’s given me confidence, but it’s also given me an opportunity to spot areas where I could improve my knowledge, which is ultimately what I want to do — keep learning and getting better at what I do every day. I’ve learned quite a bit from being questioned on things that I’d never really considered.
Q. What range of farming experience do you see among your customers?
A. We get a ton of people who think they don’t have the ability to grow anything. We give them suggestions for things they can grow easily — foolproof crops with a really high rate of success. Most of the people around here don’t know anything about fertilizing, and we have a whole array of organic fertilizers.
We do workshops every week, on [everything from] beekeeping to raising chickens. We’re doing a small livestock workshop this week, we’re doing a gardening-for-flower arrangements class, we do some on basic container gardening, and then we have a really fun workshop coming up on vegan gardening techniques — using fertilizers that are not animal-based, low-impact gardening, and finding ways to control pests without spraying a bunch of stuff.
Q. What other projects do you have going besides Hayseed’s?
A. I’m writing a book on urban beekeeping. I’m starting an educational homestead in New Jersey at a place called Seven Arrows. We’re hoping to create a place where people can come to get away from the craziness of the city, but also learn more about growing food. We’re going to put all the infrastructure in place late this summer, and then by early 2013 we’ll be in full swing. The goal is to create a hub for learning in the region.
Q. What’s the plan for the store from here?
A. We’re open for another month. We’re going to end [the store] no later than early July. The last two weeks we’ll do a lot of sales and start doing workshops on how people can prep for their fall garden come late August, and then we’ll close up shop. If the numbers reflect a sustainable operation, we’ll do it again next year. All our overhead [for this year] has been paid off, so anything that we sell from here on out is gravy.
We’re just trying to get people pumped on growing their own food, and we want to give them the confidence to get started.