By John Burton
MIDDLETOWN – Mike Meier and Megan Paska are in the business of farming organically, raising fruit and vegetables, some livestock and honeybees on a portion of a 20-acre estate in Locust.
But there is a bigger picture and message to what these two young farmers/ business partners are doing.
“It’s really about homesteading,” Meier said. “Sure this is our livelihood, how we pay our bills … but it’s about how we live.”
Seven Arrows East Homestead at 160 Hartshorne Road sits on a sprawling estate overlooking the Navesink River that has been owned by the Knipscher family since 1959.
Meier and Paska, who are working to grow sustainably and organically for themselves and others, began their first planting season this spring on the approximately 3 acres using a format called “community supported agriculture” or CSA. That is “a common business model” in the industry and means that their “mini-farm” is one that benefits all who participate, Meier said.
“Your neighbors buy a share,” he said, though in this case, it extends to more than those who live in the immediate vicinity of the rustic neighborhood.
Seven Arrows – the name was taken from the title of a book by Hyemeyohsts Storm – has about 30 shareholders right now. A share costs $660 for the season – 22 weeks at $30 a week. Seven Arrows already has a waiting list of people who want shares for next season.
“It’s a shared risk, shared benefit,” Meier said. But more importantly, the shareholders “also feel very connected to what’s happening out here on the farm.”
Right now about 50 different varieties of fruits and vegetables – including tomatoes, kale, cabbage, cucumbers, green peppers, apples “and the most amazing garlic” – are being raised on about three-quarters of an acre. Along with the produce, they raise chickens, ducks, turkeys and goats.
Paska, who is an expert on urban beekeeping and has a book being published on the subject, tends to about 10 hives on site and sells the honey.
The farm is “also about fostering the romantic relationship with food,” Paska said.
By that she meant, people get to see what is grown, how it’s grown and get to know who is growing it, something they are finding many are interested in. The business partners note that people are buying what is grown locally and want really good ingredients for those recipes they’re getting while watching The Food Network.
“We’re focused on growing really dynamite food,” Meier said.
“We don’t make a lot of money but we eat better than anyone we know,” Paska said.
Seven Arrows East also operates a small farm market, open to the public on Sunday afternoons, where Meier and Paska sell the remainder of what they grow.
Marie Jackson, a CSA member who owns and operates the Flaky Tart bakery in Atlantic Highlands, isn’t only interested in getting fresh produce from the farm for her family. “Whatever they have, I try to snag for the bakery,” she said.
She is especially partial to tomatoes and uses them in the bakery’s tomato tarts, which “have a cult following.
“I’m so in awe that they came here, working the land, raising these beautiful things that we’re privileged to enjoy,” Jackson said. “That’s what we’re looking to do, aren’t we? We’re looking to grow healthier things, grow it locally, support our neighbors and create a community – and they’re doing it.”
That community they have created also includes a yoga retreat, operated in a cottage on the farm property by friend Summer Quashie.
“We’re trying to be living examples of sustainability,” said Quashie, as customers and clients also look to sustain mind and body.
“The farm and the yoga are intertwined and will continue to be so as long as we grow here,” Meier said.
For Paska it’s all connected in what she calls “living aesthetically … living your life, growing your food, helping people feel more connected.”
Meier, 26, who is originally from South Florida, and Paska, 33, who hails from Baltimore, Md., got to know each other when they were living in Brooklyn. Quashie, 37, who grew up in Middletown, was also living in Brooklyn, operating a yoga studio. Paska and Meier were involved in urban farming there, with Paska beekeeping and Meier running a rooftop farm for a company called Brooklyn Grange.
“I knew after that experience I wanted to continue growing and farming,” he said.
The three relocated after finding out about the property from mutual friends who said the owners might be interested in leasing land for farming. Paska and Quashie live on the property in separate cottages. Quashie operates her yoga retreat there, catering mostly to weekenders from New York, and conducts yoga lessons a few evenings a week. Meier lives in Middletown, where he also works with Impact Oasis, a not-for-profit organization that works with autistic adults. Meier is helping that organization establish its own small farm, he said.
Meier and Paska hope that the CSA model catches on in the area.
“If we could crank out a few new farmers who can do this,” Meier said, “that would be great.”