Self-sustaining: Newhouse adjunct strays away from consumerism, builds life with family around natural elements

When Steve Carlic distributed the syllabus to his NEW 205: “News Writing” class, his students looked at one another with eyebrows raised in fascination. 

Besides stating that Carlic works in the Opinion section at The Post-Standard and as an adjunct professor at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, the syllabus said something much more intriguing. When Carlic isn’t at work, he’s collecting honey from his honeybees, stirring up homemade maple syrup, helping his wife run her soap company and being a father of three children.

That is only half of what the Newhouse professor does at home. In addition to the bees, syrup, soap and fatherhood, Carlic owns chickens. He also makes his own wine and beer in his basement.

This is all part of his plan to be a more sustainable individual.

“I can’t change the world, but I can change what I can do,” Carlic said.

Carlic has been interested in the local economy, food and connections after reading books about local farming and sustainability.

His 19-year-old daughter Grace introduced him to author Michael Pollan, who writes about ways to be sustainable with food choices. This triggered Carlic to become involved in local sustainability.

“I’m exploring to see how it works out,” Carlic said.

One of Carlic’s experiments is taking honey from his honeybees and selling it. When he sells the honey from the bees, he uses the money to buy new hives. Similarly, when the chickens lay eggs, he sells the eggs to pay for the chicken feed.

And with bees comes wax.

His work is a cycle. The wax goes toward the soap business of Carlic’s wife, Mary. The two have worked with homemade soap, hand cream and lotions for eight years. Mary Carlic owns a gift shop in Marcellus, N.Y., called The Wren’s Den, which she opened in May 2012. At the shop, she sells the lotions, soaps and creams.

According to the gift shop’s website, Mary Carlic was in the sales business before she had children and opened her shop. In this stage of her life, she says the gift shop is a hobby as well as a business.

“It’s become a nice business opportunity for us,” Mary Carlic said. “We are kind of into our own thing here. Trying to get away from supporting all of the large corporations and buying things local, supporting local businesses.”

Carlic and his wife enjoy producing their own things because it allows them to be more sustainable. They support the production of food that is locally grown or products that are locally made.

It might be easier for the Carlics to go buy Aunt Jemima maple syrup from the grocery store, but to them, making it themselves in their own home is more sustainable and pleasurable.

Carlic makes this his lifestyle because he finds it enjoyable. He says he doesn’t watch much television and reads a lot. He also has his own garden where he grows Shiitake mushrooms. He cuts the hardwood, uses sugar maple and inoculates it with the mushroom spawn. The mushrooms flush after thriving in the woods after one year.

A mess in the Carlic household is not something to panic about. In fact, when Carlic was growing up, his mother encouraged it.

“My mom always raised my brother and I with the idea of anytime we disturb the house and make a mess, she called it a creative mess,” Carlic said. “She never yelled at us or scolded us. If we made a mess, she wouldn’t freak out. She encourages it. Same way now.”

Inanimate objects like syrup, wax or honey might leave a mess inside, but they have animate objects in a shed that aren’t quite as sticky.

Carlic and his wife take care of the chickens together. Carlic says he takes care of the chickens daily. Mary Carlic says the chickens don’t require much work.

“The chickens are very low maintenance,” she said. “We make sure they have clean water and we collect their eggs. They are a lot of fun. They have become like pets.”

Chickens are small, but the Carlics also have pets of a larger size, like goats.

“She wanted goats,” Carlic said. “I had a goat as a kid and they are work.”

Even though Carlic says goats are high maintenance, their personalities and qualities supersede the negative factors of owning them.

“The goats are purely pets,” Mary Carlic said. “I have a thing for goats. I think they are quite entertaining animals. I had wanted goats for a while and Steve said ‘No, you don’t need goats,’” she said.

The newest addition to the Carlic family will be sheep in the spring.

Carlic is able to share his sustainability hobby with his daughter. Grace Carlic is also into gardening, local economy and food lifestyle her father enjoys so much.

During the holidays, Grace Carlic shopped at local stores, rather than spending money at large businesses and corporations. 

She said she helps with the chickens and the maple syrup, and expressed her approval for what her father is doing.

Said Grace Carlic: “My dad always says he is proud of me, but I’m so proud of him. He’s truly doing something amazing. His efforts, what he’s trying to do, is so smart. It’s hard. It’s not easy, especially because of the property we live on. It’s inspiring to see the work he puts into it.”


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