I met Michael James Meier in passing last year at a Backwards Beekeepers meeting hosted by Brooklyn Grange, where he serves as their farm manager. I had been hearing stories of his resourcefulness and creativity. I also caught wind of how he jokingly refers to himself as the “Brooklyn Homo-steader” which I found totally hilarious and awesome! I recently met up with him to see if he’d want to pick up some of the slack on the blog and contribute some of his own musings to which he happily agreed to be involved! I’m really excited to have a different perspective shared on Brooklyn Homesteader for a change! Welcome, Michael!
You guys will see more posts from Michael in the future, focused on crafting with salvaged materials, homebrewing, beekeeping (this spring will be his first year!) gardening and eventually some livestock adventures of his own. In the meantime, here’s a little Q&A with Michael to get you all acquainted!
So, Michael. Where are you from?
I was born and raised in a little town called Stuart on the southeast coast of Florida, just north of Jupiter and even more north of Palm Beach, and even more north than that of Miami. I’ve been living in NYC for about seven years and have tried out a few neighborhoods along the way: East Village, Financial District, Chinatown, Crown Heights, LES, and, now, Bed-Stuy (where I plan to stay put for a while).
When people ask you “What do you do?”, what do you tell them?
Well, I worked in digital media and advertising for a couple years after school, helping big bad companies like Walmart, Kraft, and Goldman Sachs spew shit all over the internet. Mea culpa. The money was great, and I managed to pay off my hefty student loan debt. But luckily the experience was pretty polarizing for me, so I was able to eventually escape despite the material cushiness of it all.
I bit the bullet in early 2011 to make right with the world and pursue a career in urban farming. Right now I’m employed with Brooklyn Grange as farm manager alongside Ben Flanner for the 2012 season. Otherwise, I’m the proud father of two formerly-feral cat siblings (Boy and Girl); an enthusiastic, polite bicyclist; thrift-store rummager; community-gardener; seamster; knitter; found-materials artist; and otherwise homesteader.
Can you tell us a little bit about your Brooklyn homestead? What kind of projects do you have going on right now?
I like to experiment, so I’ve usually got at least one new project going at any time. But, generally…
Food: Right now I work with about 70 sq. ft. of container growing space on the roof of my apartment building, some clay pots but mostly stuff found on the street… buckets, storage bins, crates, and drawers. I’m also lucky to have two beds at my community garden around the corner (probably should keep that on the downlow). All in, I grow a nice haul of veggies: tomatoes, peppers, onions, beans, beets, carrots, kale, lettuces, and mustards. I’m shooting toward completely covering my veg needs, at least throughout the season, but haven’t quite gotten there yet. But I like going to the greenmarkets anyway. I have played around with canning, but never get my hands on enough stuff at one time to make it worthwhile. I save seed. Too much seed.
Tipple: I brew beer year-round with a setup I bought (gasp!) at Brooklyn Homebrew. I don’t get too creative unless I’m brewing for holiday presents; I usually stick to good ol’ IPAs, or saisons in the summer heat of my un-a/c’d apartment. I’m thinking nice and hard about a still for this year.
Home: There’s been lots of renovation and new construction in my immediate neighborhood since I moved here, so I’ve been a pig in shit. Lots of old wood, new wood, screws and nails. My dad got me a drill kit for my birthday a couple years ago, and boy has it come in handy. I’ve made lots of shelves and some little decorative odds and ends, but my biggest project so far has been a cabinet made with old red-stained cedar with ikea bed slats for shelves. It’s missing doors, but for now it’ll do. I also have a thing for taxidermy, and much to the chagrin of my poor roommates, I can really stink up the apartment when I don’t know what I’m doing (which is just about always).
Other: I make my own toothpaste and deodorant off and on and make pomade with beeswax (soon enough, my own beeswax). I like to get crafty with my knitting needles and sewing machine, and there is nothing that can’t be made out of burlap coffee sacks, let me tell you. My worm bin eats up most of my rubbish, and I use the castings in my garden.
How did you get into doing all of these things?
I was doing homesteady things for the fun of it before I even knew of the word, but I suppose that’s how it always goes. Things just kind of developed over time. I guess my first real forays into homesteading were when I grew some veggies and herbs and foraged edibles in my backyard in Crown Heights. Once I caught the bug, it spread to other areas. I’d been doing the thrift store/free-box/craigslist thing, crafting, building stuff, and sewing and knitting here and there for years, but it all seemed to coalesce after I started to take control of my food. Along the way, I had delved deeper into food policy, economic policy, environmental issues, global corporatism, etc. and it began to make a lot of sense for me. What was becoming my homestead had already proven incredibly enjoyable and rewarding personally, so when I started to understand it as a way to rebel against evil, there was no turning back.
Who inspires you to keep living the sustainable life?
Probably the most influential piece of homsteady literature I’ve ever read is Dolly Freed’s landmark Possom Living. Freed – especially as she was, then – is my homesteading idol. Otherwise, I’m particularly inspired by Vandana Shiva, Gene Logsdon, and Will Allen. To my other idols out there, sorry for blanking.
Dolly Freed in Possum Living from Tin House Books on Vimeo.
Want to describe yourself in five words?
Five words are not enough!