Fresh Energy’s mission-driven programmatic and policy work continues to grow. This year alone we’ve added policy staff, as well as new departments to take on deeper decarbonization. To support this growth and ensure the way we communicate about clean energy and climate continues to inform, engage, and mobilize, the Communications team is expanding. Please join us in welcoming Isak Kvam, Senior Communications Associate, Writer, to Fresh Energy! In his role, Isak will help educate Minnesotans as we build an equitable, carbon-free future together.
We’re delighted to have Isak on the team and as one of his first writing projects, asked him to put pen to paper and share a bit about himself via a Q&A. Check it out!
We’re so excited to have you on the Communications team! And while you’re a new employee at Fresh Energy, you’re not new to working in the clean energy space. Tell us a bit about your professional background and education.
Thanks, I’m very excited to join the Fresh Energy team! I have a background in writing and clean energy, so finding this position at Fresh Energy that melds both felt like the perfect fit for me.
I was a Communications & Policy Associate at Clean Grid Alliance in St. Paul, working on a lot of the same clean energy activities that Fresh Energy is involved in. I learned a lot about state energy policy, regulatory filings at the Public Utilities Commission, and writing lots (and lots) of blog posts, Op-Eds, explainers, and social media posts for the Comms. Department.
Since 2019, I’ve been a freelance outdoor writer and editor focusing on hiking and camping, national environmental policy, and #vanlife. My girlfriend and I spent this time traveling and working in a van that we converted into a small RV, so it was a great experience to visit so many of our public lands and get to write about them, too.
You’ve written for some pretty awesome publications. Backpacker Magazine is a personal favorite of mine. But the world of pitching stories and writing for large publications can be hard to break into, how did you do it?
Yes, learning how to pitch editors—especially editors I’d never worked with before—was definitely a big learning curve. The best advice I received early on was to pitch stories succinctly, stay persistent, and not to take rejections personally. I set a goal to pitch 2-3 new stories to different publications every day as I was getting started. I need to thank my editor Adam at Backpacker Magazine for being patient with me; I think I was pitching him a new idea every single day for a few months to get my foot in the door, and he was very polite and welcoming to my many, many emails while I was getting the hang of it.
If I were to give advice to a new freelance writer, I’d say to really focus on being polite and submitting clean copy on time. There are some great writers out there that aren’t great at meeting deadlines or being easy to work with, and that can cause a lot of headaches for their editors. If you make your editor’s job as easy as you can, you might start getting more assigned work. That’s relevant advice for any job, really.
In your role, you will be super focused on writing for Fresh Energy’s print and digital communications. What topics are you most excited about exploring for the folks who read our blogs and newsletters?
I’ve really enjoyed writing about clean energy and how our electric grid works, so I’m looking forward to diving more deeply into that. But I’m most excited to jump into Fresh Energy’s work in Energy Transition and Energy Access and Equity to decarbonize our different sectors equitably. Specifically, I’m looking forward to diving into net-zero buildings and clean transportation. There’s been a lot of new technology and growing momentum in these areas lately, and I know there’s a lot to explore!
A few months before the COVID-19 pandemic, you and your partner converted a van and have spent years enjoying #vanlife. How did this all come about and do you have a favorite story you could share?
Yes, I followed a blogger when I was in college that was writing, climbing, and traveling in his van out West, and I started dreaming about doing the same. Soon after that, my partner started seeing #vanlife posts on Instagram showing some beautiful vans that people were building and traveling in. We weren’t handy, but we’re pretty good at sticking to our goals, so we saved up for a high-roof Ram Promaster van and slowly converted it ourselves. I’d spent a while writing about clean energy, but it was a learning experience to design and install our own off-grid 12V solar system so we could power our lives as we worked and traveled.
We spent a lot of our time hiking and skiing in Utah and Colorado. I met some amazing people on our travels as we slowly hiked through a bunch of national parks (talk to me about Bryce and Olympic!) and skied (Alta and Deer Valley!).
One of my favorite experiences was exploring so many of the hiking trails in Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. The parking lots for the popular hiking trails in the park can fill up at 5:30 or 6 a.m., but with a van, we could snag a parking spot at 4 a.m., jump back into bed for a few hours, make a pot of coffee, and hit the trail. We joked about calling ourselves #PremiumDirtbaggers because this is a very luxurious way to hike! But it was balanced out with a lot of inconveniences like no daily showers and sharing a 72-square-foot van with another person for months at a time.
Isak, while you’ve spent the past few years traveling the country, Minnesota is your home. Can you share a bit about where you grew up and how it shaped your personal ethos?
I grew up on a farm outside Granite Falls, Minnesota in the southwest area of the state. My dad grew corn and soybeans, so I grew up picking rock, walking beans, and generally helping on the farm when I wasn’t building forts in the grove or swimming in the creek.
As I got older, I cleaned pig barns, helped my friend Garrett sort cattle, started covering local stories for my hometown newspaper, and even worked as a canoe guide at my local environmental non-profit. This all led to a love for rural places and developing a relationship with the land and the community.
This has spanned to my work in clean energy, since so many wind and solar projects are built in rural areas. I’ve long been interested in climate solutions, and I like to be a resource between important renewable energy projects and the rural communities that benefit from them who have many, many questions when they’re being proposed.
You mentioned in your bio that you enjoy birding, do you have a favorite sighting? How did birding become a passion of yours?
I feel like my favorite sighting is always the last new-to-me bird I saw, so right now my favorite sighting was a wood thrush that flew into my backyard in May. I’m using the word “sighting” very loosely here, because wood thrushes are really shy and secretive, so I didn’t actually see it. But I did hear it! They have a distinct, unique call that sounds like a wood flute, and they’re actually pretty rare to see here in Minnesota.
If I had to pick an all-time favorite, though, it’s a nesting Great Horned Owl that lives about a half mile from my house. I spent a lot of time sitting in a forest around sunset this past winter to watch it fly tree to tree as it hunted.
I first got into birding when I took an ornithology class in college, but I didn’t like it immediately. It was actually really hard! We learned how to identify over a hundred birds by sight and sound, and while I was great at knowing bird calls, it was tricky to remember all the details to identify them by sight.
I got back into birding during the pandemic when I started noticing different spring migrants flying through and challenged myself to identify each new species I saw. I use the free Merlin Bird ID app all the time for this. It’s beginner-friendly and helps you identify birds based on their size and color. It even has a sound recording and identification feature that’s like Shazam for bird calls. It’s great!
Thanks for sharing with us, Isak! We’re so glad to have you on the team and our readers can rest assured they’ll be hearing a lot more from you across Fresh Energy’s print and digital communications very soon. Stay tuned!