Raising a child requires a village, and it takes several thousand staff and faculty to educate and nurture Princeton students.

Charlie Soma is one of those employees. Soma has been a member of the cast since 2011; He now works as a landscape crew leader, helping to beautify and maintain the campus grounds at Princeton.


The conversation below has been edited for length and clarity.

Charlie Soma: Earth is not exactly what most people from the outside consider a very glorious location. But I feel at home here, because I’m obsessed with plants. It is truly a labor of love; It’s not a job for me. I have worked in this industry all my life.

The Daily Princetonian: How did you get involved in this kind of work?

CS: I grew up in a beautiful rural area. I have always noticed that there are many different trees in the forest, and I wanted to know them all.

When I finally got to my senior year in high school, my freshman year in college – I really wanted to do something that wasn’t working. So I went to Delaware Valley College, which is now a university (hopefully not dating me) and did environmental design.

It was eye opening. Once you’re out on the field, you see it live. I opened my eyes. I understood that there is more than one way to do things. Since then I have been trying to be a sponge.

DP: Where did you grow up?

CS: I grew up in Upper Bucks County, Pennsylvania, across the river. It was agricultural – a lot of farms, but still a lot of native plants.

DP: You have been working with plants for a long time. What makes it fun for you?


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CS: When I first started gardening, it was more ornamental. But when I went to school, [I studied] the environmental side of it. when i was driving, [I would think] “Wow, look at all those oaks, you know, look at all these natives.” On the contrary, when there is an infected area, like a lot of environmental impacts, [I would think] “Look at all those invasive plants.”

It’s very exciting. Other people who are more aware of this [environmental impacts] Really trying to help rebuild, establish and maintain the ecosystem. I’m excited to be a part of that for the next generation. I’m sure you’ll come back for the reunion and you’ll be like, “When I was a student, that tree was only 10 feet tall.”

These large trees are about 250 years old. Who stood under it? What did they see? It’s amazing that they are still here, and we have the privilege of all they have to offer.

DP: How did you end up on campus?

CS: I got started in high end residential gardening, because that’s where the money was.

We were based in Bucks County. I cut my teeth there. This is where I really learned that people have different opinions about botanicals.

[But] My life required me to have a job that I set for hours, and I have a family – sons. I was a designer before I worked as a maintenance gardener. This was a lot of meeting clients, meeting with contractors, or setting up crews. We’d go find a pay phone, call the chief, and tell him what we needed the next day. Of course, in the winter, the work dries up somewhat, so you are laid off.

I had a neighbor who worked as an electrician here. He saw me working, and was like, “Man, you really love gardening.” I’m like, “Okay, that’s what I do.”
he is [asked,] Have you ever thought about working at the university? The light went on.

When I was appointed, I was in a daze. This is a great place to work Working in a place like this is so much more than you do. Our mission is to give you a place to hang out, learn, grow and love.

DP: Do you have a particular favorite place on campus?

CS: I was going to ask you that question! But you got it with me.

I must say Canon Green. It’s much more than just a four-player game. There are trees that have been around long after my tenure. There is Nassau Hall, Morrison Hall, Chancellor Green, and East Pyne. Then you look behind you and there are two Greek temple buildings – Cleo and Wig. You feel like you are somewhere special.

The way the light moves across the campus is really cool. When trees lose their leaves, they give a whole new look to some yards. The corners of the sun give the stone and the buildings have different colors and fields. It is constantly changing.

DP: are you an artist? The way you talk about your work is very similar to art.

CS: Gardening is where science meets art. You know, nature will do something – we try to interpret it in an aesthetically pleasing way. And now, it has a useful function, Live Scene.

I am not an artist. I like to draw, but I like only plants. I love gardening. I love dirt. I love every part of it. I mean, I even love the tools they give us.

You’ve heard this quote as the slowest performing arts. Gardening definitely requires a lot of patience; Sometimes you will do things and plants do that [six inches] big. You wonder, “What would this be?” Then you have to wait a whole year.

DP: What does a typical day on campus look like?

CS: Get in early, because I’m pumped. I! I know you’re like, “This guy’s crazy.” But this time of year is great.

I am a crew leader. I have about four people, sometimes five. We will have a meeting in the morning. We try to get away from the dormitories in the morning, because you guys are asleep.

We work in academic buildings or areas where we won’t make a lot of noise. It is still very dark, so we usually weed; Some people are looking for trash. Weeding doesn’t make any sound – it’s an easy task, as it gets the blood pumping.

We have a break. We come back, and then we can use more machine tools. We’ve never had this much builder; just turning around [campus] Difficult.

After the break, we will meet in groups of two and deal with bigger matters. Then we have lunch.

We start at 6 in the morning, and I usually have my lunch by 10, then by 12 it’s either paperwork or relaxation. We finished by 2:30, which is great. I can go home and work in my own garden or do whatever life requires of me.

DP: What is life like outside Princeton?

CS: Lots of driving and begging with the kids to take care of their studies. I’m a father.

I wish I could garden more, but in this chapter of my life, I’m just trying to give [my children] The best possible experience. This job allows me to because I don’t have to work overtime. I’m there when they get off the bus.

On the weekends, I call my garden the “Fortress of Solitude.” I like to go out there and nest, toil — a racket, if you will — and look at the plants. I live toward Washington Crossing State Park. So if I get bored in my house, I just walk into the woods. I am very lucky.

DP: Do you have a favorite memory from your time at Princeton?

CS: My favorite part was when we finally got rid of COVID. [During the height of the pandemic] We didn’t really have a big presence on campus and nature was doing the same. You could have filmed “The Walking Dead” here. There was weeds everywhere. When we finally arrived, it was the following spring. I remember thinking, “Wow, we’re finally where we want to be.” It was a relief.

For some people, this is just a basic function. But I feel it’s my responsibility to make sure this place looks good. It is my invitation. [When I was applying] People will say, “If you work at Princeton, you are very lucky. If you don’t get the job, keep applying.”

I ended up getting it on my first try, and it’s been a fairy tale ever since.

DP: What do you want students to know – about you or the work you do?

CS: I just want them to know how much we care about campus. A lot of the people I work with directly are very passionate people who really care about their jobs and what they do. That’s it – we are really happy to be here. We are proud to be here.

Daniel Yu is a contributor to The Daily Princetonian. Please direct any requests for corrections to the patch @ dailyprincetonian.com.

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