Board Member Karen Vanek sits in a meadow.

Meet ecowarrior and fellow DuPage resident, Karen Vanek.

As a board member for Sustain DuPage, Karen will contribute her perspective in ecological landscaping and invasive species management, but her story begins far earlier. Karen grew up (and currently resides) in the city of Naperville. Activities like riding bikes to the local park to play along the creek all summer, walking through the neighborhood with her dad collecting pinecones for her art projects, and gardening alongside her mother greatly imprinted upon her the significance nature has when it comes to shaping her sense of place. Food, family and play all involved interaction with nature right outside her door.

Karen is a prime example of how one’s connection to a place no matter where they live can foster a love for nature as a whole. In 2007, Karen earned a Bachelor of Science from Loyola University Chicago in Biology and went on to work with The Student Conservation Association and later Argonne National Laboratory within their Terrestrial Ecology Department and Biology Department. By 2011, Karen obtained a Permaculture Design Certificate and is finishing a Masters of Arts Degree in Ecological Design out of Prescott College.

Out of her motivation to help others realize the potential of revitalizing landscapes, whether it be from a plant consultation, native plants tour, or designing forest gardens, she created the design and consultation business, Green Karen, LLC in 2014 to meet this growing need. The company is the culmination of her desire to design perennial edible landscapes in the suburbs, her practice of permaculture design and participation in creating numerous large and small-scale regenerative ecological designing projects across the United States.

Since September of 2014, Karen has been working alongside Restoration Agriculture expert, Mark Shepard as the Nursery Manager of Forest Agriculture Enterprises, the tree crops nursery based on New Forest Farm in Viola, WI. She utilizes her skills in business development, site planning, research, botany, and nursery work to further her goal of transforming degraded landscapes to be ecologically-sound and economically-profitable.

She manages the nursery, Forest Agriculture Enterprises, which offers bare root tree and shrub seedlings commonly used in agroforestry, habitat restoration and perennial crop plans such as Hybrid Chestnuts, Hybrid Hazelnuts, Apple and Serviceberry. These plants produce fruits or nuts for human consumption and/or perennial agricultural systems with the potential to be planted en mass for harvesting as an added income stream. In urban locations, these plantings are suitable for increasing ecosystem services and enhancing wildlife habitat.

Karen initially joined Sustain DuPage on local harvests, fundraisers, and movie nights, and has become a valued contributor to the Sustain DuPage family. She shares our vision for building a sustainable DuPage County through the sharing of her skills- ensuring we value the natural capital that is about in our very communities. Keep an eye out, for you might find Karen harvesting local fruits and nuts or tending her seedlings depending on the season!

(If you’d like to contact Karen directly- click here!)


Interested in applying to become a Board Member yourself? Click here to learn more.

Find out here all the other ways you can involve yourself!


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