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Staff Spotlight: Sophia Toler-Smith, Stewardship Coordinator

Having grown up advocating for conservation issues and attending stream clean-up work parties along the Anacostia River in Maryland, Sophia Toler-Smith brings a deep love for the natural environment and the outdoors to her role as Stewardship Coordinator. During her time working as an outreach specialist at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Sophia helped organize agricultural, reforestation, and riparian restoration events and workshops. Most recently, Sophia worked as an agricultural technician at the University of Maryland’s Waste to Energy Lab, where she collected and analyzed samples from an anaerobic digester. Sophia received a BS from the University of Maryland in Environmental Science with a concentration in Ecological Technology and Design. In her spare time, Sophia enjoys hiking with her dog, listening to audiobooks, and exploring the local music scene. Here’s Sophia…

Tell us about yourself.

I grew up in Maryland and spent a lot of time in nature as a kid. My mom had a cabin in the woods of Shenandoah National Park where we would go every summer, and that really fostered my love for the environment and the outdoors. I went to a French immersion school and had a lot of West African influences growing up, which shapes my identity today. I have family here in Seattle and have always been drawn to this side of the country, so am grateful to have had a chance to move out here. I can’t wait to spend more time in the mountains!

Tell us why you care about local food and farming issues.

I’ve always really loved food. My mom is an amazing chef, so she instilled that love in me from a young age. She always had a big, wild garden that she would harvest from to cook creative, delicious meals. The garden was my happy place as a kid, even though I was in charge of weeding. I loved picking raspberries and watching fruit ripen on the trees. I also became really intrigued with urban gardening and food sovereignty issues when I was in school. I took a course on urban farming and remember visiting an urban garden in D.C. that had a volunteer program for youth. I was so intrigued and inspired by the community that built up around the garden, and think there is so much power in growing your own food.

What are you most excited about working on at the organization?

I’m most excited about going out in the field and meeting farmers. So far I’ve met a few folks, and it’s been really meaningful to talk to people, hear their stories, and actually walk the lands that we’ve conserved. I’m also excited for when we’ll be able to host more volunteer and restoration events and engage the community on our farms. I love being outside, so I’ll take any chance I can get to do it!

What is your hope for the future of farming in Washington?

Throughout history, so much of the land in this country has been stolen from Black, Indigineous, and communities of color. I can trace my family’s history back to slavery, and so know firsthand the agricultural and land stewardship knowledge that has been erased from so many Black communities. The part of our mission that aims to connect farmers, especially those from marginalized groups, to land opportunities and resources feels really important to me on a personal level. I hope we can make progress toward greater equity in our food and farming system in the future. 

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

I’m just so excited to be here. I can’t wait to meet new people, new farmers, and anyone else who wants to connect to the land and to our mission.

Photo: Sophia (left) and her dog Willow overlook Brooks Lake in the Absaroka Mountains of Wyoming.