Nick Cutsumpas admits that going for a run with him can be “a hassle” because he’ll stop to take pictures of plants. That just comes with the territory when your running companion is “Farmer Nick,” host of Netflix’s Instant Dream Home and author of Plant Coach: The Beginner’s Guide to Caring for Plants and the Planet. A full-time urban gardener and landscape designer, Nick believes that the more you’re connected to nature, the more likely you are to act with its best interest in mind.
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It doesn’t matter if you have a garden or a couple of potted plants on a windowsill. “It’s not a matter of how impressive your plants are,” Nick says. “All that I care about is that you care about those plants and you want to take care of them, because that’s the key, right? If you care, then you’re gonna start caring about other larger environmental causes and things in the world around you.”
That’s the thesis behind Plant Coach. “The book really revolves around this idea that plants are stepping stones towards sustainability. They are that botanical bridge that will allow you to connect differently with the nature that is around you that you might not have seen before. There’s this phenomenon known as ‘plant blindness,’ where we could be in a space and not acknowledge or even notice the plants that are around us, be it a park or trees or wherever it might be. And it’s my goal with this book not only to give you plant care advice, because there’s a whole guide on that, but really redefine the relationship that you have with plants and viewing your home as a living, breathing ecosystem with nature that is not furniture.”
For a long time there wasn’t much connection between house plants and the environmental movement, but Nick has seen that change in recent years. “If you are a Millennial or Gen Z person living in an apartment and you want to feel connected to nature and this movement as a whole, the easiest way to do that is to care for plants and feel like you are nurturing something, as opposed to our parents’ generation where it was more, ‘Let’s just put plants here and have it look a certain way.’
Nick has been helping people connect to their plants through humor, with his “Human vs. Plant” series on Instagram. “I was always naming my plants and talking to them and I’m like, ‘Okay, well, what if my plant talked back and I, as the human, would act as the kind of silly, stupid human who doesn’t really know what they’re doing and is asking the plant for advice on certain things?’ Social media can be a lot of things, but the information is not new; it’s just how you deliver it that makes people laugh or smile or absorb information differently. That’s the key for me. And if I can have a conversation with my plant as a human and the plant is saying, ‘Listen human, you’re doing it all wrong; here’s how you handle fungus gnats’ or ‘Here’s how I should be watered properly,’ I feel like that information is gonna stick with folks. And so far it’s been pretty resounding in terms of people really resonating with the content and feeling like that’s them, they’re that human. And yes, you’re anthropomorphizing the plants a little bit, giving them a voice and human qualities. But if that helps you build empathy for the plants in your collection, I think that’s amazing.”
Caring for plants benefits the caretakers as well as their charges. In our fast-paced world, plants force us to slow down. Nick says that personally, he can’t sit down and meditate. “But, he continues, “I can be there with my plants for an hour in silence, just working through it and taking care of them. And that is the way that I can find a moment of zen and solitude with myself.”
Running is another way for Nick to unwind. “Running for me is very cathartic. I use it to kind of process things that I’m feeling,” he says. He goes on what he calls his “Sad Boy” runs when he’s feeling upset. “I’ve got a whole playlist: John Mayer, Adele, Harry Styles. It’s all on queue and I’m just running ‘cause I’m sad and it’s great. I’m in it and it motivates me. So it’s not like the typical, you know, hip hop, rap, upbeat music. Like I’m running to sad music and it makes me feel awesome.” Not only that, but “I’ve set some of my PRrs after some very sad or frustrating moments in my life. I’m like, ‘Oh, this is a trend that I don’t know if I like it, but that’s something I’m observing.”
He also uses his platforms to talk about issues beyond environmentalism. “We live in a society that has a lot of flaws and it would, in my mind, not be the right thing to ignore issues that my following and audience care about and are affected by. Oftentimes adversely affected by. Especially as a cisgendered straight male, I do not see many people in my position advocating for these issues. It drives me insane. Like me posting about abortion should not get, you know, 100 messages from women saying, ‘You’re the only straight guy I know who posted about this.’ That’s a problem. I’ve had other people saying, ‘Unfollowing; stick to plants.’ I’m like, ‘Great, see you later.’”
One thing that Nick would like to remind everyone is to “Never underestimate your individual actions as a consumer. The reason I say that is because there’s so much dialogue in this eco space that says it’s not on you; it’s the big corporations. Which is true, but I think our society has lost this concept of duality, that two things can be true at the same time. If 10% of people decided to stop eating animals tomorrow, those corporations would change. If 10% of people decided that they weren’t going to fly as much, those corporations would change. You see it with electric cars; there were six electric car commercials at the Super Bowl this year. That is driven by consumers, nothing else. And if we go through life thinking that our individual actions don’t matter, then we’re playing exactly into the hands of the very corporate, capitalistic world we live in, where they can call the shots and run things the way they want to run them. So your individual action matters, and at least just model the change you want to see and just be that person, because if you’re not gonna do it, then no one else will.”
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“Thank you” to Nick! We look forward to hearing your thoughts on the show.