By Kimberly Maul
Just imagine bees lifting off from rooftop hives in Brooklyn, flying west over trees and rooftops, crossing high above the tugboats pushing barges on the East river, and navigating the canyons of midtown Manhattan to find patches of pollinating flowers in Central Park. After collecting pollen and nectar from hundreds of flowers, the heavily laden bees return to their Brooklyn hives where armies of workers transform it into honey. It’s not the sort of thing we city-dwellers often contemplate, but it happens all the time thanks to a new breed of urban beekeepers like Meg Paska.
When Meg moved from Baltimore to Brooklyn four years ago, she thought her dream of beekeeping would be put on hold. But after she found the New York Beekeepers Association and landed some amazing landlords, she started Brooklyn Honey.
Paska says a love of gardening “spawned an interest in beekeeping,” and she took classes in Baltimore before moving to New York. Here, after stumbling into a great apartment with a shared backyard, basement, rooftop, and willing landlords, she set up a few hives and started harvesting honey on her roof. She says she doesn’t think she fits the term “urban farmer,” but with chickens in the backyard and plans to grow mushrooms in the basement, it’s difficult to describe her passions otherwise.
“Gardening,” Paska adds, “is like the gateway drug to becoming…whatever it is that I am.” Growing up in Baltimore, she often visited her family’s 450-acre farm in Virginia, which got her hooked on gardening. Her future plans include getting rabbits and looking into hydroponics, or growing plants without soil. She also does social media work for friends and restaurants in Brooklyn.
Beekeeping officially became legal in New York this past spring, and Paska explains, “cities are a great place to keep bees.” They can travel up to three miles pollinating plants from Brooklyn to Central Park.
“Throughout spring and summer, different trees and flowers bloom at different times,” she adds, giving the honey different flavors. In the early spring, the honey starts off light, herbal, and almost minty, and by the fall becomes darker and spicy, with a hint of tobacco.
Paska currently produces almost 150 four-ounce jars of honey a year. As her hives, many of which are still in their first year, mature, they will produce more honey. She’s currently working with hives at Eco Brooklynin Carroll Gardens, Eagle Street Rooftop Farm in Greenpoint, and at BK Farmyards‘ Crown Heights location, and she plans to add more next year.
“I like doing things on a small scale and having control over the product; when I have my hands in there, I’m confident in the product,” Paska says, though she expresses guilt that she can’t provide enough product to meet demand.
But she does her best to spread the honeybee love. Paska goes to schools to teach children about honeybees and chickens, and she has beekeeping classes lined up at the New York Botanical Garden and 3rd Ward, an art and design center in Brooklyn. She has written for The Huffington Post about beekeeping, and is also hosting a bike tour of various rooftop apiaries in Brooklyn on August 29. She says she wants people to “experience up close and personal what it’s like to work some bees.”
Paska’s passion for honeybees is evident as she talks about working with the bees and seeing their own world inside the hive, calling it “magical.”
“The first time you harvest honey, it’s life changing,” she says. “It’s easy, once you have that moment with these creatures who produce this great product, to get carried away.” She loves to introduce people to the feeling of, as she describes it, “sticking your head into this world where there are so many complexities.”
Paska is also involved with Brooklyn Homesteader, a website where she chronicles her beekeeping and other projects. This week, on August 18, she worked with several local food producers including Eagle Street Rooftop Farms, The Meat Hook, BK Farmyards, Bacon Marmalade and Williamsburg wine bar Pinkerton to host “A Night with the Locals,” featuring a locally sourced five-course meal and a showing of Woody Allen’s Manhattan. Stay tuned for more great events from Meg.
You can find Brooklyn Honey at Brooklyn Standard in Greenpoint, at Radish and Whisk in Williamsburg, and orders can be placed through the Brooklyn Honey website. Supply is very limited, and comes and goes throughout the season, so some patience may be required in order to get your hands on some of your own!
Favorite kind of honey: The dark and very distinctive honey harvested in September
Favorite Place in Brooklyn: Her Backyard