Kristen McIvor, Harvest Pierce County
Harvest Pierce County supports 82 community gardens representing over 15 acres of land, the majority of which use Tagro products to grow food for family, friends and food banks. Between the Farm program and the Garden program – 67,000 pounds of food was grown for donation to school cafeterias and food banks. That’s not counting all the food from the gleaning program harvested from fruit trees and farms. This is the kind of work that Kristen McIvor, Urban Agriculture and Local Access Program Director, gets to be a part of at Harvest Pierce County.
Read how Kristen became part of the biosolids world and what she envisions for the future of biosolids, in her own words, below. Responses have been edited for clarity and abridged for length.
Harvest Pierce County is a program with the Pierce Conservation District that supports an Urban Agriculture program for residents. The City of Tacoma - Tagro program is a key partner and supporter of our work and provides biosolids products to our community projects – we coordinate with community members to organize their projects, and Tagro provides the materials necessary to build or improve their sites. The Tagro product is absolutely essential to establishing and supporting community gardens – many times the location that makes sense for a garden in an urban area has horrible soil conditions. With access to Tagro, we can create a productive raised bed garden in an area that is otherwise unproductive. Some gardens are built on good soil but many aren’t – for example we are in the process of expanding an existing community garden that is on a vacant lot adjacent to the sound wall of I-5. The ground is essentially gravel, but we are building raised beds and using Tagro Potting soil and the new capacity will allow new gardeners from the Vietnamese, Cambodian and Mexican communities to garden there (alongside the existing Filipino community).
What did you think you’d do for a career, before you started working in biosolids management?
I never expected biosolids to be a part of my life. I wanted to work with urban agriculture, and I never dreamed that biosolids would be an important part of that – I didn’t even know what biosolids were! Now I can’t imagine this work without it – and educating people about biosolids and their benefits is one of my favorite parts of the job.
How did you end up working with biosolids? What was your first job in the biosolids industry?
My first job was as Tagro’s ‘meeter-greeter’ – essentially the person who managed the parking situation and guarded the pile of material that they set out for free every day. I also did other odd jobs like manage their demonstration garden. Dr. Sally Brown connected me to the Tagro program while I was student at the University of Washington. Tacoma has been a supporter since then and an official Harvest Pierce County program funder since 2010.
Why did you continue/have you continued to work with biosolids?
I see biosolids as an essential part of urban soil recovery – we work with so many urban lots that have neglected soil. It would be so much harder without biosolids as a resource! Plus I really love explaining biosolids to people and seeing their faces when they understand how cool it is to turn a waste product into such an important resource. Biosolids are directly responsible for feeding so many people in our county through urban gardening. It's hard to fathom running a garden program without them! It feels like important work to support a healthy urban ecosystem and also to strengthen our food system at the local level. I also really enjoy the opportunities I have to educate the public about soil health, food and biosolids.
Who did you learn the most from over your career?
Sally Brown taught me about biosolids and their role in so many important functions in the world. Dan Eberhardt taught me about Tacoma and Tagro and how things work on the ground. Both Dan Thompson and Dan Eberhardt have been big supporters of our work and partners in thinking outside to the box to make things happen for the community here. Tagro continues to go above and beyond to support our work together!
What’s your dream job (in or out of the biosolids world)?
In my dream job, I would just get paid to have a garden and cook food for my friends and family. There would be no meetings or email or phone calls.
What makes you inspired to keep working in the biosolids world? Why does this matter to you?
It feels important to me to continue to help urban people understand and appreciate biosolids, and to help biosolids make such an impact on urban gardens. This connection helps people to feel the impact they have and how they can do the right thing for the environment too. Hopefully the awareness that is built is also helpful long term as people make decisions about their impact on the environment.
Learn more at www.harvestpiercecounty.org or www.facebook.com/harvestpiercecounty.