Originally from New Jersey, Jay Gruen has lived in a multitude of places before settling in the Hudson Valley. An avid outdoors-man and homesteader, Gruen is the host of FYI channel’s “Unplugged Nation.” He lives in Saugerties with his wife and two children.
What is your background?
I was a professional landscape designer in New Jersey when I came to the realization that I was building all of these beautiful outdoor kitchens that cost thousands of dollars but I wasn’t planting any food around them. I wanted to have more of a connection with my food and where it came from. I watched some documentaries about factory farming and realized that since I had a green thumb I should use it for good. I got deep into urban homesteading, small-scale farming and worked with an environmental non-profit in New York City. You can grow so much food in such a small space. If everyone grew just a little bit of food, the burden would be so much less. It’s important to me to get more self-reliant.
How did your background in homesteading segue into television?
I started a Facebook page called Plant Food, Not Lawns. Through that I was working in schools and garden centers and doing a lot of outreach. I did a lecture at the National Holistic Mom’s Conference which is where the production company found me. They asked me to do a pilot and we went from there. The dynamic of the show has changed a bit. I show homes to these families, they pick one and then I get to show them many aspects of homesteading. My whole passion is getting the people outside, getting them to work and experience aspects of homesteading. We’ve had four families from the first season buy a house and start homesteading.
What type of education do you have in television?
I have no training in television, you can ask my directors. I am not easily directed. I work with an amazing crew that helps keep me in check. It’s a fascinating learning process. Right now there are so many shows out there are focused on off-grid living and homesteading. It’s a growing movement that I am proud to be on the forefront of.
How is the work/life balance?
I go out and film for about 5-6 months and then come home and I am contractor again. It’s an adjustment. Being away from my family is extremely difficult. I have a wanderlust too so I love traveling yet I love being in my garden at home and growing my own food. As long as I am able to teach people how to connect with their food and still grow my own, I will be happy being on TV and traveling.
Have you ever thought of doing some training locally?
Yes. I’d love to. I’d be open to that. While I do get noticed in some places, the show hasn’t really picked up yet locally and no one has approached me about doing any outreach or workshops. I’d be happy to do a workshop at a senior center or school. I’d be happy to do anything I can for the community.
What advice would you give to someone who is looking to start living a more self sustainable lifestyle?
It starts with a small garden and goes from there. Build raised beds, that way you can control your soil. Then maybe you start keeping chickens or quail. It’s baby steps. Once you get that bug, you get it hard and it’s exciting. It’s a gratifying feeling when you can do that. I get a lot of people reaching out to me on social media and it’s great to hear the excitement from people when they tell me about their gardens or chickens. I answer all my own social media and I love being a resource for people that way.
What’s a misconception that people may have about living off-grid?
When you say off-grid living, people have a vision of an abandoned school bus surrounded by trip wires and land mines in the middle of the woods. You don’t have to live that way. We feature some amazing homes on the show with modern appliances, hot tubs and amenities. If you have the right set up with solar and wind power and a battery bank, you are all set. You can have an amazing house and be off-grid.
What type of person would make a good TV host?
Someone way more polished than I am. I swear too much and I’m too sarcastic. But really, if you have a passion for what you do, you will fit the mold. If your production company lets you speak to your strengths and passions and if they let you off your leash a little bit while keeping you within the boundaries, you will be successful.
What makes for a really good day on the set?
When I can get in and get out, make some people laugh and educate some folks. I love working with the 5- to 12-yea- old range too. They want to get out and do things and learn. I love helping them learn, they are like little sponges. We had a sick pig on set one day and we worked together to get him healthy. These kids were empowered by spoon-feeding him antibiotics and helping to get him back on his feet. Moments like those are make for a great day.
Do you get a lot of people who are interested in being on TV?
Yes. Season one was difficult to cast because no one knew about the show. Homesteading is a huge movement now. It’s really just living, though; we just call it homesteading. There are so many people who want to do this. Homesteaders used to rely on their neighbors but now it’s a global community. You can apply someone’s homesteading techniques to your life and learn from people who are doing similar things on the other side of the world.
How can we watch your show?
You can catch Unplugged Nation on the FYI network. It’s currently on reruns on Monday nights. You can watch it on Amazon prime, YouTube, and Google play. You can also check out updates and contact me on Facebook at Jay Gruen Unplugged.