Posted: October 19, 2023

Watch the recording from our conversation with Katie Chriest, Penn State Sustainability Outreach and Communications for Commonwealth Campuses, about a student-led, community-centered initiative to raise awareness around issues of farmer mental health and stress called "Growing Roots of Understanding."

Session Description 

Growing Roots of Understanding started as a student-led, community-centered initiative to raise awareness around issues of farmer mental health and stress. The project has involved students in Behrend’s Sustainable Food Systems program reaching out to local farmers, building trust, asking about the misconceptions they frequently encounter, and encouraging them to share their stories. This session will focus on how the project evolved from a kernel of an idea to a replicable model of engagement, including a community forum, conference presentations, and meaningful ongoing relationships. We’ll also talk about ideas for connecting students to multiple stakeholders with diverse perspectives and priorities, from policymakers to business owners to Extension educators. Additionally, we’ll discuss the way the project epitomizes the complexity in talking about our food system, and how students are uniquely positioned to interrogate many of the unproductive assumptions often taken for granted.


Storyteller Bio 

Based at Penn State Behrend in Erie, PA, Katie Chriest works with communications colleagues to help amplify sustainability successes across Commonwealth Campuses, while serving as Penn State Sustainability’s liaison for campuses in western PA. She initially joined the organization as part of the Sustainable Food Systems Program, and still leads an energized team of interns in partnering with local entities who work to increase food access and promote food justice throughout northwest PA, while managing an expanding campus garden at Penn State Behrend. Since the spring of 2022, she has overseen “Growing Roots of Understanding,” a student-led project aimed toward raising awareness around the stress and mental health challenges faced by regional farmers. 

Katie also focuses on helping students to navigate complicated relationships to food, recognizing that encouraging people to change their eating habits in order to “save the planet” is rarely as simple as it is portrayed. She has served on Penn State Behrend’s Food Insecurity Advisory Board and Eating Disorder Support Team, and supports a research pilot led by psychology faculty and a graduate student exploring associations between food insecurity, disordered eating, and climate anxiety.

About the Series 

Stories from the Field is a conversation series on community engagement and applied research. The series is designed to bring academics and practitioners together for informal discussions about the challenges and opportunities of doing work with communities, businesses, and the public sector. Stories from the Field is hosted by Penn State's Center for Economic and Community Development, an applied research center dedicated to strengthening local and regional development in Pennsylvania and beyond.