Categorized | IN OUR COMMUNITY

Longfellow resident wins prestigious 2019 Bush Fellowship grant

Posted on 22 April 2019 by calvin

Longfellow resident Heather Cusick engaged with the soil at a very early age. And today, as she has been named a 2019 Bush Fellow, she reflects on those early beginnings and how they have played a part in her life ever since.

“I grew up on a farm in Kansas,” she said. “I had access to the natural sites and seasons, and all of that brought sustenance as well as a lot of the values I have. It set in motion my love of the natural world, my protection of the natural world and my concern for the natural world.”

Cusick said that food and soil have been a part of her life in its entirety, and for the past ten years she has had an urban farm in South Minneapolis.
Cusick learned in March that she was one of 24 Bush Fellows, selected from a group of 684 individuals from Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and the 23 native nations located within those states.

Photo right: During her two-year 2019 Bush Fellowship grant Longfellow resident Heather Cusick will focus on agriculture and climate advocacy. (Photo by Jan Willms)

According to the Bush Foundation policy, Fellows receive up to $100,000 to use from 12 to 24 months in pursuit of a learning experience that will help them develop leadership skills in their chosen field.

Cusick will start her grant in June, and it will continue for two years.

Reflecting on her upbringing, Cusick said food and growing food has a remarkable way of being a lovely language between people. “The chance to be engaged with the soil and gardening and farming has been very much what has inspired me to focus on the protection of the environment,” she said.

Cusick worked for 17 years for the Sierra Club, where she served most recently as Beyond Coal Campaign Regional Campaign Director for the Central/Eastern Regions. Cusick said her work for the past ten years on a national climate campaign offered her the opportunity to work with teams in almost all of the states at one time or another.

“I worked with remarkable people all over the country who are focused to make a huge difference.”

Cusick left the Sierra Club in 2018 and now works as a consultant for Climate Bridge Strategies.

Individuals apply to become a Bush Fellow. “You discuss a little bit of your leadership, your accomplishments, your dreams, and your visions,” Cusick explained. “And then you refine the information through multiple steps. At the end of the process, there is a selection committee that selects the Fellows after a half-day of interviews. “For me, the process and the selection was a real honor and unique opportunity.”

Cusick said that for years she has been working on issues, mentoring, training, and managing staff and volunteers. “This offers me a time to really pause and ask the question about what are some of the areas I would like to develop as I move into this next phase of my interests. The fellowship will allow me the opportunity to transition into a climate and agriculture focus. This is really a wonderful opportunity to respectfully and intentionally enter this community.”

During her career, Cusick has had a lifelong commitment to environmental protection and to communities that are most deeply impacted by climate-disrupting pollution.

With the Fellowship, she said she wants to focus on agriculture and climate advocacy. To accomplish this, she plans to study agricultural models around the world, deepen her equity and racial justice competency and seek coaching to build a stronger public voice.

“I can go to other locations and look at places that were early leaders in climate commitments, and places that produced food with low greenhouse gas emissions,” Cusick said. “It will take me out of the country and expand my perspective. I also am rooting myself in the science, and as much technical urban and rural farming information, as possible…”

“The program is very flexible,” Cusick continued. “I am doing a self-designed program.” She said she will learn from local as well as international communities. “I am interested in expanding my exposure. I have so much to learn.”

“The Bush Fellowship program really benefits our region, and we are really fortunate,” Cusick stated. “They do this every year, where they award an opportunity for someone to develop their leadership through these fellowships.”

Individuals in a wide variety of fields have been selected to be a Bush Fellow. Cusick said the other Fellowship winners are an incredible group of people. “We will have a retreat together, which I am looking forward to,” she explained, “and some additional opportunities to meet after that.”

As the two years move forward, Cusick said she will document her progress and will file reflections throughout the project.

According to Cusick, being a Bush Fellow provides one with an opportunity that is unique and positive.

“Climate Science says we have to change a lot about how we transport ourselves, grow our food, and heat our homes, among other things. The great part is that there are a lot of people out there tracking a lot of healthy environmental practices. They are innovating every day.”

“Our job,” she continued, “is to make sure that they can do this work at scale and be supported and have obstacles removed. Our generation knows what our impact is. We have the opportunity and the responsibility to reduce this impact for future generations, and that is very, very important.”