Heather Jean Cusick

Heather Cusick
Learning Log

Heather Jean Cusick

Report date
November 2019
Fellowship term
24 months
Learning log 1

I am looking out over Lake Superior reflecting on what to include in this public log as part of my six month journey. As I watch the Lake’s waves and reflections, I am taken in by its power and magnificence. I am thinking about the incredible natural systems and cycles that live deep within the Lake, above its waters, and on its hundreds of miles of shoreline. It is all so intricately connected. Interconnectedness and power are themes of my Bush Fellowship journey thus far.

I began applying for the Bush Fellowship as I transitioned out of a national environmental organization following a long and fulfilling tenure, the final years of which were spent working to eliminate emissions from coal plants. I decided to focus my efforts on agriculture and climate change.

The questions posed by the Bush Fellowship program and the timing were ideal for this time in my life. I had just left my position and welcomed structure to do a deep dive into my next steps in life. The process created a unique opportunity to talk with colleagues and friends as I drafted and redrafted responses to the application questions. I engaged in a robust internal dialogue as I reflected on my leadership and thought about my future. All the while I continued to internalize the true meaning of my decision to leave my previous senior role. I challenged myself to think about my leadership outside the context of an organization. Each step of the application process posed different questions which prompted reflection, new internal dialogues, more conversations with friends and colleagues and an on-going honest examination of my leadership. The interview process was rigorous. The award was emotional. The development of the work plan was exhilarating. Meeting the other Fellows inspired and profoundly moved me.

Moving myself out of a long-time position helped awaken me to the world around me. The Fellowship process coaxed me to embrace the unknown, doubt and certainty, new perspectives, and to ask questions about my leadership - why do I lead and how do I lead. I am redefining and articulating personal values that underly my leadership and I am listening and engaging with intention. I am challenging myself to build new relationships while deepening my understanding of the intricate interconnectedness within communities. As I absorb, analyze, and synthesize new information and borrow from my electric sector work I am realizing the breadth of a framework that is centered in equity and reduces agriculture greenhouse gas emissions at the scale and pace demanded.

In the spirit of the Bush Fellowship and in pursuit of leadership growth I am learning to engage emerging opportunities with greater curiosity. Within my workplan I set out to gain subject matter background, expand my perspective, and begin to renew and develop new relationships. The universe of information and interconnectedness within agriculture, climate, and equity just kept expanding so I just decided to follow the stars. Over the last six months, I walked in Kansas prairies and community gardens of Milwaukee, stood in cornfields in Minnesota, enjoyed the company of critters in the solitude of wilderness, listened to experts in barns, walked organic test plots, and listened to food stories and farm stories.

With greater intention, I have taken the necessary time to be in conversation, to be curious and to marvel at the power and potential of a diversity of ideas. The Fellowship opportunity motivated me to experience places and enter into conversations new to me. I settled into the richness of these stories and the beauty of these places. Along the way I met a landscape of hopeful people and communities. I listened to long-time farmers, stewards of the land who are innovating on a daily basis as they live within very unsettled seasons. I met new farmers drawn in by the land and healthy foods who are testing new ways to sustain their efforts. I listened to advocates focused on addressing underlying injustices and inequities within our food systems who are advocating for land and food access, healthy agriculture practices, and sustainable communities. I asked a lot of questions of scientists and staff in universities, institutes, and agencies who are painstakingly testing ways to reduce agriculture greenhouse gas emissions and sequester carbon at the pace and scale needed.

In many of these conversations I heard urgency and a shared conviction that we must do what we need to do so our children and our children’s children and all living creatures may thrive within the natural and community systems that are so equipped to sustain. Within this interconnected network there is tremendous power. While I am taking in a lot of new information, my hope grows stronger that change can happen at a scale that is necessary.

This hope is a gift from this invigorating Fellowship experience.