To our astonishment and delight
we were flushing woodcocks left and right
as we walked through fallow fields and tangled woods
on the cusp of spring.
Alanna Koshollek fondly remembers the day when she and her now-husband Andy looked at each other and knew, after a two-year search for the right piece of land, that they had found the property they would call home. This is the story of how one of the Aldo Leopold Foundation’s staff members, Alanna Koshollek, lives a land ethic with her family on their land.
Alanna grew up on a dairy farm in a small town outside of Wausau, WI. From a young age, she learned gardening, hunting, and fishing from her parents; her Mom’s love of gardening blossomed into a greenhouse business and her Dad’s career in the recycling industry imbued a heightened awareness of resource use. “My parents didn’t know who Aldo Leopold was, but because they wanted the garden and crops to do well year after year, they had to think about land health. It’s hard to know if that consciousness came from necessity or the recognition to not waste.”
“That was just our way of life. In so many different aspects, it was infused… I was curious about the natural world because it was always changing and there was always something to learn.”
When it came time to pick a major at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, Alanna started in Urban Planning but switched to forestry after realizing how much time urban planners spend indoors. The forestry program was focused on ecosystem restoration and holistic systems thinking, which resonated strongly with her. After college, Alanna worked out West for a season before returning to Wisconsin to work on the land stewardship team at the Aldo Leopold Foundation.
To Alanna, living a land ethic means “letting your values drive your decisions and lifestyle in all aspects… being conscious of decisions to consume or use resources… caring for land and communities… and setting an example you hope will be more of the norm.” One of the ways she embodies this belief is by growing and harvesting much of what she and her family consume.
She has a large garden (which enables her to can and freeze the bounty for all seasons), her husband Andy is an angler, and she and Andy hunt together to harvest their own meat. They also keep chickens for eggs and raise steers each year to provide beef for themselves and a dozen other families. They supplement their own production with homemade butter, eggs, garlic, popcorn, leather belts, and rag rugs from local Amish communities. Sustainable resource consumption exemplifies the land ethic, as does landownership.
“For us, to own land is a must.”
Alanna and Andy both grew up in the country, so being surrounded by land and the immediate closeness to the natural world feels like home. They also share a deep dedication to land stewardship and a resounding conviction that improving land is the right thing to do. They want to ensure their daughter Autumn is raised with full integration to the land—immersion to yield lifelong understandings of responsible landownership and where resources come from.
While Alanna and Andy both owned land before meeting each other, they then looked for a property to buy together. On their wish list were: woods of decent quality, view exposure, a water feature, and amenities like electricity and a driveway. The scene of flushing woodcocks at the start of this blog marked a turning point in their search, and they have been working to advance the health of their land ever since.
One of their first projects was removing several acres of box elder, unexpectedly revealing four beautiful oaks within. The effort to sustain oaks on the property has led them to conduct two timber harvests with Andy cutting many of the trees himself. “The eagerness to see changes propels us forward,” says Alanna. “Andy and I won’t live to see the full impacts of oak regeneration management, but Autumn will.” After so much sweat equity over the years, it’s rewarding for Alanna to look out over their valley and see the transformation: healed gullies, opened woods, fallow fields turned to native prairies, and a pond with wood ducks and otters.
When I asked Alanna how the way she lives a land ethic has changed as a result of becoming a landowner, she reflected that her land management decisions used to be more objective—based on her academic training and on the facts she saw. Today, she understands more fully how subjective elements, such as emotional attachments to landscape features, come to color and shape those decisions.
“I now realize there’s a softer, more personal side to the management that needs to be balanced with the scientific and ecological side.”
For some, like Alanna and Andy, owning land is a core part of their identity. Others live a land ethic in different ways. Based on her own experience prior to being a landowner, Alanna’s encouragement to all of us—those who own land and those who don’t—is to vote with our dollars and be intentional about how we spend our time. Some of the ways she did this early in her career were to choose organic food whenever possible and support individuals doing land care with many of her available hours. How do you live a land ethic?
To learn more about Alanna Koshollek, click here. Curious about Leopold’s land ethic?