Karen headshot

Karen Nordstrom

Policy Program Co-Director, Food Solutions New England

Karen Nordstrom serves as the Policy Program Co-Director for Food Solutions New England (FSNE), serving as a key liaison to a cross-cutting regional policy initiative that integrates and coordinates activities, insights, strategies, and tactics across the issue areas of food, farms, forests, fisheries, and communities. This work supports the New England Food Vision, the Wildlands and Woodlands vision, and related efforts. It builds on Karen’s recent work at the University of Vermont, where she serves as the evaluation director for a USDA Research and Extension Experiences for Undergraduates program, as an educational research affiliate with the Agroecology and Livelihoods Collaborative (ALC), and as a coordinating committee member of the UVM Contemplative Faculty Learning Community. Karen’s work explores participatory and engaged approaches for systematic data collection that informs program development, with a strong commitment to transformative justice. These approaches seek to develop enhanced communication, systems improvements and organizational development.

Karen’s graduate studies include an MAE from California State University Monterey Bay, and a PhD from the University of Vermont (UVM). She completed her MAE in 2004 centered on curriculum and instruction with a multicultural education focus. Building on this action research project, her doctoral work examined participatory program and course development with colleagues from a range of disciplines at UVM. She completed her doctoral work in 2015 through the Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources, where her academic background was situated within the field of sustainability education. Her work involved applied scholarly engagement on the UVM campus and beyond. While at UVM, she also led program development processes within the residential learning community focused on sustainability, and co-designed and taught domestic and international courses focused on high impact educational practices in the fields of agroecology and food systems. She subsequently served as a course instructor for undergraduate courses focused on food systems and environment, including experiential seminars nested within Sustainability House, and as an academic advisor for students pursuing baccalaureate degrees in environmental studies and food systems. 

Through her extensive work in education, Karen has found herself drawn to engage people in ways that both nurture human well-being, as well as challenge dominant worldviews. She leans on her professional development through the work of the Association for Contemplative Mind in Higher Education (ACMHE), as she steers her career toward service grounded in compassion, using her personal voice as a tool for social change. In 2018, Karen was awarded a contemplative social justice scholarship through ACMHE, which strengthened her understanding of the relationship between contemplative practice and social justice and deepened her commitment thereto. Her recent scholarly work includes two publications for a special issue on critical- and equity-oriented approaches to sustainable food systems education in the journal Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems. This work centered on transformative learning in agroecology education and was completed alongside colleagues affiliated with the ALC. It involved an examination of individual and collective values, worldviews, and identities, and the ways in which they intersect with sustainability concepts in the field of food systems. These recent endeavors, grounded in ecological and social literacy and undergirded by values that inform behavior and practice, are fueled by a desire for systemic reform from within the make-up of our social systems.