Food is a concept most college students are familiar with. However, their interest in the subject usually ends somewhere around their fourth course at one of the all-you-can-eat dining halls. For Cooper Adams, an eighth-semester student at Georgetown University, food has become his passion. Fighting food insecurity, that is.
Not only is Adams a full-time student, but he is a leading member of The Farmlink Project, a non-profit working to limit food waste and insecurity by connecting farms to communities in need. I recently had the opportunity to interview Adams to learn more about the project and how he balances studying with his quest to end hunger.
Kate Luongo (DC): If someone was meeting you for the first time, how would you introduce yourself?
Cooper Adams: My name is Cooper Adams. I am curious about everything around me, especially people. I love interacting with and learning from those around me. A geeky obsession of mine is airplanes. I wrote a 20-page paper about air cabin pressurization systems last year, which I do not recommend reading unless you are a fellow aviation nerd. Last but not least, I have two black labs, named Hobie and Cisco, who are my best friends. I am not ashamed of this.
KL: What university do you go to and what is your major?
CA: I go to Georgetown University. I double major in international business with a regional focus on Europe and management.
KL: Can you tell me a little bit about your daily life as a student? It is your ideal Saturday evening. What are you doing for fun?
CA: I am a second-semester senior here at Georgetown and wish I could be having a normal college experience right now, but of course, we have to play with the cards we are dealt, so my daily life is largely confined to my apartment here in Washington, D.C. I have a couple of classes each day – currently taking five of them – so I spend a healthy amount of time at my desk on Zoom. In between my classes, I try to get in a nice run to the monuments to get off the screens for a bit, and usually end the day cooking myself some dinner! An ideal Saturday night for me right now is a combination of a tasty, home-cooked meal, an episode of “The Crown,” and getting to bed early!
KL: What is The Farmlink Project? Can you give me an overview of the project?
CA: The Farmlink Project is an organization working to end hunger. We have identified a process by which to transport fresh produce from farmers and distributors to the charitable food system in order to combat real-time hunger needs. In addition to working in that immediate, short-term capacity, we are developing solutions to hunger in the long-term. This will be done through smart policy choices, technological innovation and education about how inequitable, inefficient and antiquated our food systems currently are. We have multiple teams working together to make this happen, ranging from your traditional operations (fundraising, legal) to creative (branding, media) to our core teams, which handle the food we move and interact with the communities we get that food to.
KL: How did the idea for The Farmlink project first develop? How did you get involved?
CA: The idea first developed when articles in major newspapers started highlighting the reality of how much food was being thrown away on farms at the same time the charitable food system was buckling under the highest demand it has ever seen. COVID-19 upended supply chains around the world and specifically exposed how fragile our food systems are, resulting in this immense waste at the exact moment nutritious food was desperately needed. I got involved soon after the idea was first acted upon by an initial cohort of students, a few of whom I had gone to high school with in Los Angeles. Once I heard about the idea, I got in touch and immediately started working on the supply side of things, connecting our organization to the farmers we obtain food from!
KL: Have you always had an interest in limiting food insecurity? What makes you passionate about this cause?
CA: Before the COVID-19 pandemic, I was blissfully unaware about the extent of food insecurity in the United States, so I cannot say I have always had an interest in the topic. But after being introduced to this issue, there is nothing that consumes my time, energy and thoughts more than food insecurity. I think it is a problem that has a solution, but people are too afraid and uninspired to make that solution a reality. I think access to nutritious, safe food is one of the most fundamental rights we have as human beings, especially in a country such as the United States. I am extremely passionate about ending food insecurity because the fact it exists makes me really angry. Thankfully, I am surrounded by a group of people who drive me to work harder and smarter day in and day out, which allows me to channel that anger in a productive way!
KL: Did anyone inspire you to get involved in this non-profit?
CA: In an indirect way, my parents inspired me to get involved with The Farmlink Project. One part of that is by introducing me to the power of food from a young age and providing me with countless opportunities to eat amazing meals with amazing people. The other aspect of it is how devoted my parents have been to lifting others up their entire lives, whether it is through non-profit work like my mom, or through inspiring media campaigns like my dad!
KL: How do you balance The Farmlink Project with your studies?
CA: This is a constant battle, to say the least. Since I am taking a full course load right now, I have a healthy amount of school work, which definitely makes it difficult to find a healthy balance between the two. The main thing that makes it manageable is my team, who are the most understanding, realistic and supportive group of people I have been lucky enough to work with over the past year. If I ever have a tough week of school work, I know they will be there to pick up my slack and I will be there to do the same for them.
KL: What are your future plans after college (no pressure!)? Did your time at university and/or The Farmlink Project influence this decision?
CA: My experience with The Farmlink Project has changed everything about what I want to do with my life. Prior to my work here, I had a vague notion of wanting to go to Europe and work at a car company –ideally Ferrari, ideally CEO – hence my major choice. After being exposed to the inequity I have seen with The Farmlink Project, as nice as being CEO of Ferrari sounds, I realized I could not and did not want to do anything with my life besides working on solving issues like food insecurity or climate change or educational inequity because they are all issues that have solutions, but for whatever reason, our government and society has not found the guts to unite and act on them together. That being said, I have applied to be a Corps member with Teach for America for my next two years after college (awaiting the decision on that) and am looking into a few other similar avenues!
KL: Do you have any advice for students seriously pursuing a hobby/passion during university?
CA: Coming from a student who did not take advantage of my time in college as much as I wish I have, I definitely would implore college kids to use this time to just explore. Be curious about everything. Explore who you are socially, intellectually, morally. Make new friends and learn about yourself because there is no better place to do so, in my opinion. Through that process, I strongly believe you will end up finding something you are driven to pursue because it excites you and makes you feel good about what you are doing. It is so important to remember this does not happen all at once! It took me until my senior year to find something I love doing. If you are lucky enough to find this during your college years or maybe even have this figured out before college, utilize the access you have to professors and professionals through your university network. No matter where you go, your university has alumni, teachers, faculty and other connections that are there to help you succeed, and that is so easy to not take advantage of!
If you are interested in getting involved with The Farmlink Project or finding out more about their mission to end food insecurity, you can visit their website.