Episode 334

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This week I’m joined by special guest, Andy Ciccone, host of The Poor Prole’s Almanac podcast. He has lots of interesting ideas, and I’m so excited to have him share his knowledge and philosophy about land.

This episode, we discuss…

[1:48] Andy’s background and his podcast

Andy hosts Poor Prole’s Almanac and Tomorrow Today. In both projects, the general idea focuses on thinking about the future and what role we have as individuals and as communities in what the future looks like. Andy’s interest is primarily around the idea of how we build community and how our communities pair with the non-human communities around us. What responsibilities do we have in managing the local ecosystems?

Andy’s parents are immigrants from southern Italy, and his grandfather had managed farmland. His parents house was covered in grapevines and giant, flowery bushes. Andy moved away, but as he got older he returned to those ideals and understood why that was so important to his family. It sparked his interest in how we pair our goals and interests with the things around us.

[4:07] Culture and identity

As an example of cultural interests, Andy offers the stereotypical obsession with pumpkin spice in the fall. He suggests that part of us is very aware that something is missing in the way we live. Traditionally, people would eat based on the seasons. With a handful of exceptions for holiday-related food, we don’t get much of that anymore. It points to something deeper that is missing in the way we relate with food, our ecology, and the seasons around us. We crave a more seasonal rhythm.

People used to live more locally, so your culture would come from things that were available to you. When you take that culture and stick it somewhere else, it is hard to replicate because those things aren’t connected anymore. We can, however, consider bringing our background, our interests, and the needs of our location together.

[10:05] Land stewardship

Moving to new land or to a new community is fun and exciting, but it can also be nerve-wracking to go to a new space. Especially when we are thinking about land stewardship, we have to consider the land’s complex history and how it had been stewarded for a number of years before. Andy recommends that, when we have the opportunity to steward a new piece of land, we need to take the time to appreciate it and learn about it. As you walk around, you will continue to notice new things. Different plants will grow seasonally, and the landscape may change over time. You can’t always make decisions based on what you see at the big box stores.

[16:34] Native species vs. invasive species

It is also important to consider the native species, so as not to introduce foreign plants or animal species. This complex web can quickly become overwhelming, which is why invasive species can do so much damage. When they do not fit into the natural environment, there is nothing to keep them in check. You can disrupt the web without ruining the environment, but sometimes it will fight back.

[20:35] Reading the landscape

When stewarding land, you can dig into the history of what happened on that landscape over the last couple hundred years. You can see the effects of people cutting down trees to create farmland, or using trees for timber. When the trees were gone, then they would use rocks for walls and fencing instead. While we are just a blip in the history of our land, Andy points out that we can be a meaningful blip based on the selections that we make.

[23:08] Historical homes

Old homes also have very deep and interesting histories, and it is a gift if the previous owners have maintained it and are able to pass down the story. There could be all kinds of remnants on the property, reminding us that we are just one patch in the quilt of the home. As discussed previously on the podcast, we have a responsibility to keep the general integrity of the house and what it represents. We wouldn’t want to put in a super modern kitchen, even if that is our taste, because it negates the generations of people that have lived in the home before. The house itself exists as a sovereign thing, whether or not we are there anymore. We want to leave it at least somewhat representative of the time from which it came.

[25:06] Representing your house or your land

I share my thoughts on this matter, as sometimes people may buy houses that don’t fit their style. The architecture of the home, however, should have a say just like the people who live there. You can put your own stamp on things without doing anything incongruous with the native vibe of the house or the land.

Regarding your land, you need to look at the landscape. You need to know what kind of soil you have – what is the pH? How wet, dry, or sandy is it? What are the native species? It is our responsibility to recognize what we can do to bring the landscape back to its full vigor.

[27:56] Learning about your soil

Andy shares that there are a number of things you can do to learn about your soil, depending on how invested you want to be in it. If you are willing to give some time but not to spend money, you can do a soil sample. You can dig up some soil and send it to a lab. Most states have extension schools that offer cheap soil assessments. Alternatively, you can look at what is growing naturally in the soil.  You can get one of those Peterson’s field guides, and you will be able to learn more about ecosystems.

[31:25] Forest bathing

In another podcast, I heard about a Japanese philosophy focused on walking through nature regularly as a way to meditate and ground yourself. In Andy’s opinion, “forest bathing” is a term to get people interested in doing things that we have done traditionally. There are numerous case studies of people going into natural settings and having documented medical improvements. We are natural creatures, and it is to our detriment that we stick ourselves in cities and boxes where we are not supposed to be.

[33:05] An urban cage vs. a native habitat

It can be intimidating for us to embrace land stewardship. We put our children in school to learn to navigate the world, but historically we would have learned from our families. We would have learned what to eat, what grows around us, and how to care for our land. Humans used to spend their entire lives learning these things, and we start when we buy land in our 30s or 40s.

[36:07] Learning from your community

Building and connecting with your community is crucial for learning about your land. We aren’t supposed to be able to do everything, and we need each other.

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