Have you ever though about a career change? How about a complete life altering transition that would lead you into in unforeseeable directions? That’s what tattoo artist Nick Bennett has done. One day, Nick just woke up and said, “I’m done. I don’t want to tattoo another person.” The man had finally lost his passion, after building a name and a career in the tattoo business.
After first opening a shop on Niagara Street (now Mark Madden’s tatt shop), and then busting a move over to Amherst Street, where he bought a building and opened Upstate Ink, Nick decided that it was time to see a therapist/meditation group. “That’s when I decided that I needed something different in my life,” he told me. “I couldn’t bring myself around to tattooing another person. Around that time, I discovered that I was a diabetic. I was looking for clarification in my life. That’s also around the time that I met Sean Kennedy (Farm2Curb). I also began to work part time at Ashker’s Juice Bar. I began to meet other people in Buffalo who cared about what they were eating, and who were into renewable energy. Before that, the closest that I got to living the lifestyle was dating girls who were mostly vegans and vegetarians.”
Shortly after having an “awakening”, Nick began to cultivate his newfound passion for urban farming and renewable energy. Nick began to look at his building on Amherst Street in different ways. “I decided to lease out the front shop to other tattoo artists,” Nick explained. “In the back I had 3000 square feet of work space, a 1500 square foot driveway, 2000 square feet of yard, and 5000 square feet of rooftop. I began to think about all of the ways that I could get off the grid, and live a self-reliant lifestyle. After meeting with The City, I realized that the only thing that was going to prevent me from doing this was the issue of sewage. So I decided that I would work on everything else, and then come back to that issue later (more to come on that).”
Soon after deciding that he was determined to become as self sufficient as possible, Nick’s new friends began to donate things to his cause… such as rain barrels, shrubs, soil, etc. Then he began collecting duckweed from Scajaquada Creek, which he told me makes great fish food. Nick also began to grow algae as a micro culture. He then started to look into building a sump pond for aquaponics, and how to go about vermicomposting, creating a living roof, planting a garden… anything that he could do to be as sustainable as possible. “I’m calling it Black Rock Micro Culture,” he said. “I’m seeing micro cultures in everything – my group of friends, what I’m growing in the garden, the community, the way that the worms attract the birds, and the birds attract the cats, which keep away the rats… it’s all part of a working ecosystem that I see more and more of each day.”
Once Nick has enough produce growing in his garden, he is considering putting up a market stall in his driveway where he can sell what he is growing. It’s another puzzle piece of the self-sustainable model. He’s currently looking into wind and sun harvesting in order to diversify his energy sources. “I’ve lived pretty much off the grid in the past, when I had very few funds on Niagara Street,” Nick pondered [laughing]. “I did that because I had no choice. But now I see that I can do that voluntarily, and make a difference in my life and in the community. I’m starting a juice pulp composting project with Ashker’s. I’m growing wheatgrass on the roof, which Ashker’s has told me they will buy. I’m growing cucumbers, broccoli, an assortment of peppers, lettuce and tomatoes, basil, peas, eggplant, zucchini, squash and pole beans. The basement of the building is a constant 50 degrees, so I have natural geothermal… and I should be able to collect enough rain to have potable water.”
While Nick has not figured out exactly what he is doing with the 3000 square feet of workspace, he told me that one thing for sure. “It’s getting cleared out. Eventually I will continue to work on these types of projects indoors, as well as outdoors. Whether that means that I experiment with vertical farming, or create a place for others to share their passions for sustainable micro cultures. This is what is happening.”
“This is what is happening.” Quit possibly one of the best takeaways from my meet-up with Nick. I am completely inspired by what he is doing over on Amherst Street, not because he’s mastered the art of sustainability, but because he is now the master of his domain. He’s learning by trial and error, and he’s enlisting the help of the community to help him to realize his dreams and aspirations. I am in awe of anyone who suddenly decides that the path that he or she is on is not the right path. And instead of simply sticking it out, wakes up one day and says, “Enough is enough, it’s time to figure out what makes me happy and healthy.” That’s what Nick did. Hopefully the momentum that he is gaining will carry him through, to a point where he can sit back and say, “I remember the day that I planted that first seed.”
If you want to follow Nick’s sustainable adventures, or you want to offer him some help, advice, a hand, you can follow Black Rock Micro Culture on Facebook.