Since she can remember, Heather Karsten's favorite color has been green. A native of the suburbs of Pittsburgh, PA, Heather's interest in plants and nature was nurtured through lots of outdoor recreational activities, gardening with her mother, and spending time on the farm of family friends. Due to her keen interest in plants and the environmental sciences, she studied Environmental Biology at Yale, where she discovered the field of Agroecology. Inspired to contribute to developing more ecologically-friendly agriculture, she went on to earn her MS and PhD in Agronomy and Agroecology at Cornell University, where she was fortunate to enjoy exploring diverse agroecosystems and their food systems through a Fulbright year in New Zealand studying pasture ecology; studies of tropical agriculture and Spanish in Guatemala, Honduras, and Costa Rica; and her PhD research on a pasture-based commercial dairy farm in New York. After post-doctoral reserach on irrigated pasture systems in the Intermountain West at Utah State University, she returned to Pennsylvania to join the faculty at The Pennsylvania State University in 1998, where she teaches and conducts research in agronomy and agroecology. At Penn State, she has researched management intensive grazing systems, the influence of a grass-based diet on livestock fatty acid composition and vitamin content, and strategies to help organic farmers with whole farm nutrient management. She currently leads an interdisciplinary research team whom are evaluating innovative conservation dairy cropping systems designed to conserve soil, nutrients, and energy; protect water quality, and reduce pesticide use with funding from the USDA's Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program. Although she continues to enjoy traveling to explore other agroecosystems and sampling diverse foods in the beautiful ridge and valley region of central Pennsylvania, Heather enjoys both the natural ecosystems and agroecosystems through hiking, biking, gardening, visiting the farmers market, and eating fresh and diverse food with her family and friends.
As an indication of the twists and turns that can lead one to contemplate food systems, I pursued physics in my undergraduate program at Cornell University, and then, through a series of volunteer and teaching experiences with rural development organizations in the developing world, I attended graduate school first in Horticulture for an MS and then a PhD in soil science. I've conducted basic research on the processes that allow soils to feed plants and supply food systems, but much of my work has been on understanding agriculture at an applied level and in the way it contributes to global food systems, from case studies of organic farms in the Northeast United States, to collaborations with nutritionists in studying Bolivian smallholder farming households. I currently collaborate with a Peruvian organization that seeks better options for maintaining soil fertility with forage crops that can also feed livestock in the Andes of South America. Over the last two years I have been pursuing a post-doctoral research post in the Geography lab of Karl Zimmerer, where we study relationships between agrobiodiversity, soil management, and geographic factors of tropical mountain regions. In my time at Penn State we have been able to try out some of the content of this course in a seminar course last spring. I'm very happy for the opportunity to form part of the multifaceted team that has authored the course, and to be a Penn State instructor for this innovative approach to fostering your learning about food and sustainability. Last but not least, I love food in all its varied glory, from the Czech and Italian recipes of my family to homemade kimchi, bread, and barbecue that I've attempted over the years. I appreciate pretty much any restaurant that can serve decent portions.