Sophia Samaha is an undergraduate student at the College of Science, graduating in the spring of 2022. Samaha is sharing her co-op experience with our community tomorrow on Instagram! Watch our stories to follow along.
What is your major and year of graduation?
I’m an environmental science major with a concentration in conservation science and a minor in musical theatre, and I will be graduating in spring 2022.
Why did you decide to enroll at the College of Science at Northeastern University?
I enrolled at the College of Science because I found that my interests aligned well with the Marine and Environmental Sciences Department opportunities. In addition, I felt like I would get the chance to learn about different realms within the environmental science field.
Where are you currently on co-op and what is your role?
I’m currently on co-op in the Farms Assistant and Community Programs position at The Food Project’s (TFP) Dorchester location. I primarily work in-person at TFP’s Dudley Greenhouse and the affiliated urban farms at West Cottage Street and Langdon Street. My responsibilities include selling our produce at weekly markets, delivering food to and from the farm, and completing various farm tasks like weeding vegetable beds, planting seedlings, and harvesting crops.
Additionally, TFP employs around 48 high schoolers, known as the “Seed Crew,” during July and August to learn about agriculture and food justice, and I helped lead them in completing farm tasks during the summer. This fall, as some have graduated to the academic year program, “Dirt Crew,” I support them on Saturdays as they lead volunteer groups in farm tasks.
Why did you choose TFP as your co-op employer?
I chose to work at TFP because I was drawn to their community-based approach to advancing food justice and sustainable agriculture. I’ve become passionate throughout my time at Northeastern about finding justice-based solutions to the increasing demand for food in the face of the climate crisis. So I thought that choosing TFP as my co-op would help me learn about how a local non-profit strives to meet the environmental, political, and social challenges that come with providing healthy, affordable, sustainable food.
How does your role contribute to the overall mission of TFP?
The mission is to “create a thoughtful and productive community of youth and adults from diverse backgrounds who work together to build a sustainable food system. Our community produces healthy food for residents of the city and suburbs, provides youth leadership opportunities, and inspires and supports others to create change in their own communities.”
I hope to contribute to this mission when I guide the high school youth through farm tasks or support them in leading volunteers. I try to motivate them to be excited about their work and ultimately empower them to think about impacting their communities and the local food system. Additionally, I spend most of my time at TFP growing produce, harvesting it, and selling it at the markets, which allows me to fulfill the goal of providing healthy food for local residents. Through working at the market every week, spending some time in the community bay of the greenhouse, and interacting with volunteers, I’ve been able to make connections with the people living in the neighborhood around the farm. I hope that these interactions can help me learn how to advance TFP’s community-building goals further.
Tell us about your co-op application process.
During my first co-op search in the spring of 2020, I still wasn’t sure which direction I wanted to go with my environmental science major, so I applied to various positions, even if they did not quite align with my interests. However, a year later, I had a clearer idea of what I was looking for, which helped me narrow my search and be more confident that I was applying to positions I would be very enthusiastic about accepting.
I knew I wanted to find something that involved environmental justice, but my ideal scenario was getting to work on an urban farm like TFP because I wanted to work somewhere where I could learn more about combating food insecurity, the science behind sustainable agricultural practices, and the logistics of running a farm. To get the position, I wrote a cover letter and attended an interview in the greenhouse in March of 2021. This was a great way to get an idea of the kind of work I could be doing there and made me very excited about the prospect of accepting the position.
How did your experience at Northeastern prepare you for this co-op?
The biology, evolution, and ecology courses I have taken at Northeastern have given me a solid background to understand the science behind planting and growing food. I also took Food Security and Sustainability with Tara Duffy in the spring of 2021, highlighting problems with the current food system and proposing potential solutions like urban farming and organic agriculture. This class helps me contextualize how TFP fits into the larger mission of revisioning the food system.
My extracurriculars at Northeastern have also prepared me well for this co-op; through my involvement with Sunrise Northeastern, I learned about the importance of environmental justice and community-based decision-making, and through my involvement with NU Stage Musical Theater Company, I gained confidence in leading large groups of people, a skill which has helped me instruct the youth on the farm.
Has this co-op offered insight into what you want to pursue as a career?
The past three months have made me more confident in my decision to work in a food justice or environmental justice field. But, more importantly, it has solidified my desire to work at companies that resonate with my values. All the work I do at TFP has felt fulfilling and purposeful, and I hope to continue to work at companies that make me feel like I am making a difference.
What is your favorite aspect of working at The Food Project?
My favorite part of working at TFP is seeing exactly how my work affects the organization. Whenever I am harvesting produce, I know that it will likely make it into someone’s home by the end of the week. Whenever I plant seedlings, I think about how they will grow into food that we will sell, even if it will not be until a month later. I also love the people. Everyone I have met is so passionate about their work, which is a very uplifting and energizing environment to return to every day.
Do you have any advice for environmental sciences students searching for a co-op currently?
If you’re searching for a co-op, be patient and don’t compare yourself to others. Sometimes during the co-op application process, it feels like everyone is way more qualified than you or like you will never find a position. This is not true! There is a position out there for you, and you should never feel like you are not good enough or have failed somehow if you cannot find one right away. Finally, even if you do not have a lot of environmental science experience on your resume, sometimes the most critical skills are ones you may have gained from working at seemingly unrelated positions. Don’t be afraid to speak in interviews about these experiences that fall outside the environmental science field!