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Makin' It: Meg Paska, Urban Beekeeper

I found out that there were people breaking the law to keep bees in NYC and I decided I wanted to break the law, too.

Meg Paska is an urban beekeeper, backyard farmer, and self-sustainability advocate living in the backwoods of Brooklyn, New York. Her adventures detail on raising chickens in a small backyard, brewing beer in the basement, and harvesting honey on rooftops will be richly explored in a forthcoming book. In the meantime, she keeps the wonderfully robust blog, Brooklyn Homesteader.


Why bees?

Bees sort of came into my life through a series of experiences in self-sufficiency over the years. I always enjoyed being outside and had an affinity for gardening and, more importantly, eating. I'm rather self-indulgent by nature. I got really into cooking and eating which led to gardening because I thought I'd end up with better food in my belly. I got into home-brewing because I liked being drunk and thought it made more sense financially to just do it myself. At a home-brew meet-up, I met a guy who made mead from his own brand of honey, foraged by his bees. A light bulb went off in my head. I could have more vegetables in my garden, honey, and make wine from it? I signed up for a short course that season and planned to keep bees in my then-hometown of Baltimore.

And how did you go from Baltimore to Brooklyn's foremost beekeeper?

The Baltimore beekeeping plan fell through. My boyfriend at the time dumped me, and I had to get out of town. I came to NYC, got a nice job—this was back when there were actually jobs to be had—and a great apartment with cool landlords. I was doing pretty well except for the fact that sitting behind a desk eight to nine hours a day was not agreeing with me. I found out that there were people breaking the law to keep bees in NYC and I decided I wanted to break the law, too, mostly because the law sounded really stupid. Honeybees were categorized with dingos and hyenas as dangerous and unsuitable for city life. I asked my landlords and neighbors if they were cool with keeping some hives, and I was lucky—they all said yes! So that spring I set up my first hive on my rooftop. Media was just picking up on the urban beekeeping thing, and I wasn't really hiding what I was doing, so I got a fair amount of exposure for it and people just started emailing me and calling me to see if I'd set up hives for them. It was pretty crazy because at the time I didn't really know what I was doing. I mean, I took the classes and read the books, but none of that prepares you for what is waiting for you inside those seemingly innocuous wooden boxes.

What exactly is going on those boxes?

A lot. The average hive maintained by humans will have about 60,000 bees in it or more during the nectar flow. 85 percent of those bees are workers—reproductively immature females—which are basically hanging around tidying up, feeding brood and other bees, building comb, removing their dead sisters and brothers—drones—and guarding the hive from invaders. After a few weeks of housework, they start foraging in the field for water, nectar, pollen, and tree resin that they convert into a substance called propolis. It helps to stabilize and sanitize the hive. Bees like a clean house. You've got one lone queen in there as well, laying on average about 1,200 eggs a day, though some can lay up to 2,000. About 15 percent of the remaining bees are drones which are only really present to mate with virgin queens in the area. They are often so clumsy they can't feed themselves adequately, so workers have to do that for them as well. In the hive, "girls rule, boys drool" is very much the name of the game.

Do you make a living solely from keeping bees?

I think if you are trying to make a living only selling urban honey you'll quickly find that you'd need to have many hives, we're talking hundreds, spread out all over the city. Running all over the place throughout the season doing routine inspections and then going to collect honey a couple times a season is not exactly time well spent. Time is money, so in order to make a living being a beekeeper, you've gotta diversify! I teach classes, consult restaurants and businesses on managing their own hives and marketing their honey, write articles on beekeeping for related publications, and got myself a book deal to round the whole thing out. I also write about and teach gardening, raising backyard livestock, and other topics related to urban self-sufficiency. I'm not rolling in cash, but I can pay my bills most of the time and get to avoid doing work that I feel in the grand scheme of things does harm to people and the environment or does absolutely nothing to improve either.

Wouldn't it be easier, and prettier, to set up shop out in the country? What's keeping you in New York City?

NYC has lots of great culture and food and activities to do. I'm not quite ready to commit to the life of a rural steward of the land. People ask me that question all the time and I always think: Why shouldn't I do these sorts of things here? If anything, the city needs more urban farmers. We're helping to reshape people's perception of what is really possible here. You don't have to come to NYC just to be a writer or fashion designer. You can do anything here, mostly because there are resources here to make it possible. Some of my best friends are beekeepers, herbalists, and urban farmers, or are people who support those lifestyles. Most of the things I do when I'm not working relate to what I do when I am working. New York is a shitshow, but it really teaches one to hustle.

And what advice would you give for the kid who wants to make a go at the farming life?

Try and land an apprenticeship at a small diversified farm, a place that grows a variety of crops and has some livestock. You can get a feel for what type of farming floats your boat and aim to work for farms that are a bit more streamlined. Expect long hours, wear sunscreen, and throw away your computer!

Articles
via Collection of the New-York Historical Society / Wikimedia Commons

Fredrick Douglass was born into slavery in 1818. At the age of 10 he was given to the Auld family.

As a child, he worked as a house slave and was able to learn to read and write, and he attempted to teach his fellow slaves the same skills.

At the age of 15, he was given to Thomas Auld, a cruel man who beat and starved his slaves and thwarted any opportunity for them to practice their faith or to learn to read or write.

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via Thomas Ledia / Wikimedia Commons

On April 20, 1889 at the Braunau am Inn, in Upper Austria Salzburger located at Vorstadt 15, Alois and Klara Hitler brought a son into the world. They named him Adolph.

Little did they know he would grow up to be one of the greatest forces of evil the world has ever known.

The Hitlers moved out of the Braunau am Inn when Adolph was three, but the three-story butter-colored building still stands. It has been the subject of controversy for seven decades.

via Thomas Ledia / Wikimedia Commons

The building was a meeting place for Nazi loyalists in the 1930s and '40s. After World War II, the building has become an informal pilgrimage site for neo-Nazis and veterans to glorify the murderous dictator.

The building was a thorn in the side to local government and residents to say the least.

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For years it was owned by Gerlinde Pommer, a descendant of the original owners. The Austrian government made numerous attempts to purchase it from her, but to no avail. The building has served many purposes, a school, a library, and a makeshift museum.

In 1989, a stone from the building was inscribed with:

"For Peace, Freedom

and Democracy.

Never Again Fascism.

Millions of Dead Remind [us]."

via Jo Oh / Wikimedia Commons

For three decades it was home to an organization that offered support and integration assistance for disabled people. But in 2011, the organization vacated the property because Pommer refused to bring it up to code.

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In 2017, the fight between the government and Pommer ended with it seizing the property. Authorities said it would get a "thorough architectural remodeling is necessary to permanently prevent the recognition and the symbolism of the building."

Now, the government intends to turn it into a police station which will surely deter any neo-Nazis from hanging around the building.

Austria has strict anti-Nazi laws that aim to prohibit any potential Nazi revival. The laws state that anyone who denies, belittles, condones or tries to justify the Nazi genocide or other Nazi crimes against humanity shall be punished with imprisonment for one year up to ten years.

In Austria the anti-Nazi laws are so strict one can go to prison for making the Nazi hand salute or saying "Heil Hitler."

"The future use of the house by the police should send an unmistakable signal that the role of this building as a memorial to the Nazis has been permanently revoked," Austria's IInterior Minister, Wolfgang Peschorn said in a statement.

The house is set to be redesigned following an international architectural competition.

Communities
via Chela Horsdal / Twitter

Amazon's "The Man in the High Castle" debuted the first episode of its final season last week.

The show is loosely based on an alternative history novel by Philip K. Dick that postulates what would happen if Nazi Germany and the Empire of Japan controlled the United States after being victorious in World War II.

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via Mike Mozart / Flickr

Chick-fil-A is the third-largest fast food chain in America, behind McDonald's and Starbucks, raking in over $10 billion a year.

But for years, the company has faced boycotts for supporting anti-LGBT charities, including the Salvation Army, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and the Paul Anderson Youth Home.

The Salvation Army faced criticism after a leader in the organization implied that gay people "deserve to die" and the company also came under fire after refusing to offer same-sex couples health insurance. But the organization swears it's evolving on such issues.

via Thomas Hawk / Flickr

The Fellowship of Christian Athletes explicitly announced it was anti gay marriage in a recent "Statement of Faith."

God instituted marriage between one man and one woman as the foundation of the family and the basic structure of human society. For this reason, we believe that marriage is exclusively the union of one man and one woman.

The Paul Anderson Youth Home teaches boys that homosexuality is wrong and that same-sex marriage is "rage against Jesus Christ and His values."

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In 2012, Chick-fil-A's CEO, Dan Cathy, made anti same-sex marriage comments on a radio broadcast:

I think we are inviting God's judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at Him and say, "We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage". I pray God's mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we have the audacity to define what marriage is about.

But the chicken giant has now decided to change it's says its charitable donation strategy because it's bad for business...Not because being homophobic is wrong.

The company recently lost several bids to provide concessions in U.S. airports. A pop-up shop in England was told it would not be renewed after eight days following LGBTQ protests.

Chick-fil-A also has plans to expand to Boston, Massachusetts where its mayor, Thomas Menino, pledged to ban the restaurant from the city.

via Wikimedia Commons

"There's no question we know that, as we go into new markets, we need to be clear about who we are," Chick-fil-A President and Chief Operating Officer Tim Tassopoulos told Bisnow. "There are lots of articles and newscasts about Chick-fil-A, and we thought we needed to be clear about our message."

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Instead, the Chick-fil-A Foundation plans to give $9 million to organizations that support education and fight homelessness. Which is commendable regardless of the company's troubled past.

"If Chick-Fil-A is serious about their pledge to stop holding hands with divisive anti-LGBTQ activists, then further transparency is needed regarding their deep ties to organizations like Focus on the Family, which exist purely to harm LGBTQ people and families," Drew Anderson, GLAAD's director of campaigns and rapid response, said in a statement.

Chick-fil-A's decision to back down from contributing to anti-LGBT charities shows the power that people have to fight back against companies by hitting them where it really hurts — the pocket book.

The question remains: If you previously avoided Chick-fil-A because it supported anti-LGBT organizations, is it now OK to eat there? Especially when Popeye's chicken sandwich is so good people will kill for it?

Lifestyle

Oh, irony. You are having quite a day.

The Italian region of Veneto, which includes the city of Venice, is currently experiencing historic flooding. Venice Mayor Luigi Brugnaro has stated that the flooding is a direct result of climate change, with the tide measuring the highest level in 50 years. The city (which is actually a collection of 100 islands in a lagoon—hence its famous canal streets), is no stranger to regular flooding, but is currently on the brink of declaring a state of emergency as waters refuse to recede.

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