Staff Spotlight: Jen Kuszmar, Acquisition Manager

June 22, 2023

Posted in: News Articles

This month we get to hear from Jen Kuszmar, our Acquisition Manager! Jen was raised in Georgia and after attending college at the University of Georgia for two years, transferred to Humboldt State University (now Cal Poly Humboldt) where she earned a Bachelor’s degree in Forestry. Jen has had the good fortune of working throughout northern California’s forests, streams, and small communities as a consultant, grant manager, and AmeriCorps member. She moved to Sonoma County to work with LandPaths and eventually the Sonoma Resource Conservation District, before returning to north to work with the County of Humboldt as the grant manager for North Coast Resource Partnership. Jen eventually found her way back to Sonoma County and started working at Ag + Open Space as the Matching Grant Coordinator, and has since been promoted to Acquisition Manager. Read on to hear about her professional journey and her thoughts on land conservation. 

What’s your favorite Sonoma County place to get outside and why?
I love Jenner Headlands with its sweeping views of the coast and its variety of landscapes from grasslands to redwood groves and more. I also love how you can choose your own adventure between a more simple few mile loop or the challenging 15 mile round trip Sea to Sky trail. This property never disappoints.

I always take guests to Taylor Mountain Regional Park and Open Space Preserve. It is such a wonderful example of our work – public open space right in our communities, protection of our community identity with this iconic hillside as the backdrop, grazing for local food production and veg management, and conservation of natural resources. Win-win-win-win!

What’s one fact, statistic, or interesting tidbit about land conservation that you enjoy sharing with others?
I am so appreciative of  the forward thinking of the landowners who voluntarily work with us on a conservation easement or fee transaction. As a public agency that only works with willing sellers, I am always impressed with the foresight of landowners who want to see their land protected and conserved forever, for the benefit of all. Their choice to work with us is a wonderful gift to not only their families, but all who live, work, play, and visit Sonoma County now and in the future.

What’s your proudest moment working in land conservation and why?
I am so grateful for the opportunities I’ve had through our Matching Grant Program to work and partner with the folks behind many community-led projects. These projects provide a tangible benefit to see and experience open space within and near Sonoma County’s communities. Ag + Open Space’s Matching Grant Program funding ensures these properties are protected forever. The public agencies and nonprofits who make these community benefit projects a reality are such an inspiration and renew my faith in humanity. Though there are too many to name here, a few projects I was proud to have a small role in during my tenure as Matching Grant Coordinator include: the expansion of the Sebastopol Skategarden, the acquisition of the Cooper Creek addition at Taylor Mountain, and the development of the Graton Green.

What compelled you to pick a career in land conservation?
Growing up, I had no idea that this type of work even existed. I chose to study Forestry in college because I liked being outside. Through my time  working on salmonid restoration projects as a member of the AmeriCorps Watershed Stewards Project, I gained an appreciation for the value of protecting our natural systems. My experience working at the Sonoma RCD taught me a lot about the critical role agriculture plays in the stewardship of our local food system as well as scenic and natural resources. The experience of working with Tribal members through the NCRP provided an opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of the care and connection indigenous peoples had and continue to have with the land. 

When I first moved from Humboldt County to Santa Rosa to work with LandPaths and later the Sonoma RCD, I was introduced to the work of Ag + Open Space and frankly was flabbergasted that this type of public agency existed. From that point, I set my sights toward working here one day. It took a long time to come to fruition, but I’m so glad it did. Our mission is aligned with both my personal ethics as well as my professional experience. I feel so fortunate to work here with my amazing colleagues on behalf of the citizens of Sonoma County.

What’s your favorite ice cream flavor and why?
As a kid, I rarely strayed from the classic Pralines and Cream. I still love this ice cream. I also love the helado de coco from La Michoacana in the Springs. My dad is a big-time ice cream fan, so really my favorite ice cream flavor is anything I’m eating with him.