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Melisa Zapisocky

Agriculture Initiatives Specialist
Strathcona County
Melisa Zapisocky
Melisa Zapisocky
Location Born
Location Now
Education Pathway

Melisa Zapisocky's job blends knowledge of agriculture with community development.

About me

I was born/grew up in: I was born and raised in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. I've spent time working in the Yukon (Canada) and Seattle (Washington State, USA)

I now live in: I live on Treaty 6 (Edmonton, Alberta)

I completed my training/education at: I have a Master of Science degree (in Environmental Studies) from the University of Montana I also have a Bachelor of Arts in Recreation, Tourism and Sport from the University of Alberta. I completed a Project Management Certificate from Northern Alberta Institute in Technology

What I do at work

My job blends knowledge of agriculture with community development. I help create programs that connect people, who live in urban areas, with those growing food and get them thinking about ecology. Designing programs involves a number of steps. I develop a budget of the expected costs and set timelines to be followed. When the project is ready, I help make sure we share it with interested people.

Much of my work is to support the communities' vision of sustainable agriculture. For example, I help create processes for residents to apply for, and add community gardens, as well as other food growing projects to parks. Basic math skills are important when plotting out new garden builds. There are measurements to take on the land for installing a garden and for building materials. For example, if you need to build 60 boxes, you need to know how much lumber you will need. We use math to calculate how much volume of soil is needed to fill the boxes and trailer. I use GIS software, review LiDAR drawings (e.g., land contours) and construction drawings. To check the science of the soil we plan to grow plants in, I use my knowledge of the periodic table and chemistry.

When I make decisions, I consider safety first.  Then I look at efficiency (e.g., how do we save resources, and provide a quality outcome). Each decision must align with our organization's Mission and Goals. A background in STEM helps my decision-making. I think of the ecological function of the area and how this is balanced with the built environment. For example, when I help add urban agriculture projects to the land, I think about the soil health, disease and pests (i.e. clubroot, black knot, invasive weeds) of the area. I also consider water drainage and watersheds, the urban wildlife and pollinator habitat.

I work on many teams. The goal is always to build collaboration. It is important to recognize that your work is part of the bigger picture and find mutually beneficial ways to work together. This means you have to practice 'give and take' and do not be possessive of your work (i.e., it's your team's work). You need to recognize all the ways your team supports you. It's really important to create tools to communicate within your teams. I host quarterly meetings on urban agriculture that any staff from our organization can attend. I also provide annual, visual handouts

My career path is

When I was doing my undergrad, I was interested in being an outdoor guide or working in a recreation facility. I did a practicum with the Agricultural Ministry on Agricultural Tourism and was excited by this work. My team connected with farmers who were looking to do different things on their farm to help educate and connect with their urban neighbours. It was so much fun to work with farmers. This led me to work on farms and with farmer’s markets. From there I became very interested in making connections between urban and rural communities. I also wanted to support local food and local economies.

Food became my entry point to learn about local and global issues. It also helped me learn about the environment and climate change, community development, poverty and health and sustainable, as well as regenerative agriculture. It's been really fun! I've worked with farmers, government and nonprofits across Alberta, in Montana, Seattle and the Yukon. We explore the theme of food, agriculture and community development.

I am motivated by

I am excited when I get to work on new projects that need to be built from the ground up. I like bringing people together to find solutions to something we haven't done before. I also enjoy building the support tools around this work. I like learning new things at work and being part of a diverse team. I feel good about my job when I see that I am helping community members come together to grow food. I find it interesting to learn about how you can make change in your organization. For example, I participate in a volunteer "Engagement team" at work. This team helps bring fun ways for our team to connect with each other.

How I affect peoples’ lives

I help community members participate in re-imagining their parks and greenspaces by adding food growing projects to the land. These projects are not large. However they help neighbours get to meet one another, teach children and others about growing food and ecology. These projects also encourage people to spend more time outdoors and lead to greater civic and community engagement. One project, can lead to another and another.

Outside of work I

I enjoy exploring the natural and wild areas of my City. I am beginning to study and identify trees and shrubs. I like gardening and am learning about pollinators and native plants. Hiking in the mountains is probably my favourite thing to do. Cross-country skiing, reading and cooking are some of my favourite activities.

My advice to others

Be flexible and open to new opportunities that take you to different places. Don't define or label yourself based on the work you do. Always keep learning! Try to meet new people, from different communities, careers, demographics and lifestyles. Join a board or committee and put the time into people and projects. If something feels boring, it's time change!

When I was a student, I enjoyed:
  • Literature and English language arts
  • Physical Education/Health
  • Careers
  • Technology (I enjoyed the hands on projects, welding and silk screen printing)
When I was a student, I would have described myself as someone who:
  • Liked helping people
  • Played on a sports team
  • Enjoyed working with my hands
  • Liked being given free range to explore my ideas
  • Liked reading
  • Wasn't sure what I wanted to do
  • I was excited to get to post-secondary studies so I could be immersed in new things and ways of thinking, and be more self-directed in my studies

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