American, Noah Hamlish, is currently undertaking research in Bergen, Norway, as part of a Thomas J. Watson Fellowship, which has already taken him to Thailand, Indonesia, New Zealand and Chile. He graduated with a BA in Biochemistry from Wesleyan University in May 2016, and blogs about his experiences at AquaCulture Shock
As a native of Chicago in the U.S. I’m not the kind of person you’d expect to go into farming – it certainly wasn’t something I thought about as a teenager. Yet I’ve always had an interest in marine science. In high school, I completed a program at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago in The Bahamas, learning the basics of marine research and surveying fish and corals.
After completing my degree in biochemistry last year, I started traveling around the world on a Thomas J. Watson Fellowship, learning about salmon farming on five different continents. I’ve been working with researchers, farmers and policymakers to understand the local aquaculture industry, and the challenges of farming different species. And I’ve come to realize that raising a salmon in Norway is very different from raising a tilapia in Indonesia.
Right now I’m in Bergen, Norway; known as the ‘gateway to the fjords’. I’ve spent the last month working with researchers, and now I’m focusing on industry. Even though research and industry are closely knit here in Norway, I’m excited to get even closer to salmon production. Research always deals with certain hypotheticals, but production has to focus on tangible, immediate solutions to challenges. It’s also interesting to see how cultural attitudes play into farming. For instance, New Zealanders approach salmon farming in a very different way to Atlantic salmon fishers – they’ve marketed salmon as an upscale, organic, niche food, whereas Norwegian salmon basically created the Japanese salmon sushi tradition.
In cities, our relationship with food ends at the grocery store. We’re disconnected from our food, and this affects how we understand farming. For example, you might see a New York Times article about the supposed perils of fish farming, and come away thinking it applies to every species in every country, whereas the original article only referred to one farm. It’s important to understand that the food system is inherently messy. Once you acknowledge that, you gain a greater appreciation for how the system works.
Urban farming is really interesting because it engages the community; when any unused space starts being used, people learn about it, because it’s next door. It might not be as large-scale as fish-farming in the Norwegian fjords, or growing corn in the Midwest, but it provides exposure to people who haven’t learnt about farming before.
I applied for the Youth Ag-Summit almost by chance. I saw it on Facebook just before the deadline, and the program seemed like a natural fit, as well as a way of rounding off a year’s traveling. I’m really looking forward to the international component, with everyone bringing their own perspective on food production. I’m looking forward to challenges which aren’t already on my radar, as well as collaborating with people equally passionate about food, sustainability and the holistic elements of our food system. In seafood, there’s a lot of discussion around biotech and the genetics of food production, so I’m hoping to learn as much as possible about that.
After traveling, I’ve also come to appreciate how interconnected global food systems are; how fish bred in Norway can end up in a Chinese supermarket. At the same time, many aquaculture challenges are specific to local conditions. For example, in Chile, they have to deal with recurring bacteria which breeds in the warmer water, whereas Norway doesn’t have to worry as much about that. Yet solutions to such challenges require a global mindset, and that’s what YAS offers – a global platform to shape local solutions.