Nick Begley has a vision for the future. The University of Washington Bothell master’s candidate is studying how emerging and alternative technologies like hydroponics, aeroponics, and aquaponics might help meet the challenges facing modern agriculture: population growth and climate change.
Begley, a Shoreline Community College graduate of the class of 2014, will present highlights of his research at Shoreline on Tues., Oct. 25 with a talk titled Farming of the Future: Feeding Everyone in the 21st Century. As a former Shoreline student, Begley hopes the talk will inspire current students to find their own passions.
“I didn’t know what I wanted to do when I first started classes at Shoreline,” said Begley, “and I’m sure a lot of current students don’t know either. I hope that, aside from getting students interested in sustainability in agriculture, my talk shows them that it’s ok not to know what you want to do as long as you’re open to possibilities and to having experiences shape you.”
Begley didn’t set out to enter the field of sustainable agriculture when he enrolled at Shoreline in 2012. A non-traditional student (he ended up taking classes because his child was enrolled in one of Shoreline’s co-op preschools), Begley started off in global studies courses. “I wanted to take something practical that I thought I could finish quickly and get back to work,” said Begley. “I wasn’t looking for a track.”
But a medical anthropology class changed his trajectory and turned him onto his passion. “We talked about health and what health means from the perspective of social determinants,” Begley said. “I became fascinated by how things like where you live and your socioeconomic class affect your health and health services. For example, there are reasons rates of obesity and diabetes are higher in some populations than others. Those issues of power and privilege were two topics that my education at Shoreline really opened my eyes to.”
His passion ignited, Begley finished his transfer degree at Shoreline then headed to UW Bothell to study public health. Now in his master’s program, Begley is focusing on public policy with the hope that he can help increase the value and shared responsibility of supporting underserved communities, such as those in food deserts, with an emphasis on preparing for the challenges of sustainable large-scale food production in a changing global landscape.
Begley hopes hydroponics is a key to those challenges. Through his research (which won him a University of Washington Bothell Founders Fellowship), he looks at the symbiotic relationships of plants and their biological systems and studies how to use those symbioses to improve tolerance to factors such as drought and disease. Taking it a step further, he then charts how those relationships can be replicated without soil in hydroponic and vertical growing systems.
“When we think of farming we think of acres of crops dotted with barns, but the reality is that that technology is outdated and often unsustainable,” said Begley. “Today’s farmer is no longer just serving their immediate community; today we have to think about producing and transporting food on a global scale.”
Part of what excites Begley most about the emerging field of sustainable agriculture are the endless career opportunities it presents. “You can go into this field as an engineer, a biologist, a horticulturalist, a policy person, a public health official, a city planner, and on and on,” said Begley. “As with any field, if you’re interested in something you just have to find a way to connect your academic interests to what you want to do and you’ll find your niche.”
That message is one he wants to share with Shoreline students in particular because he’s been in their shoes. “I know what’s it like to be in school and unsure of what you want to do. That uncertainty is one of the great things about education though; if you’re open to experiences, take advantage of every opportunity offered, and let new ideas come at you, then education can change you in a very fluid way and help you find a passion you never knew existed.”
Begley says that willingness to learn and participate on campus (he was Associated Student Government president 2014) helped get him where he is today. “Shoreline was fantastic for me in that way. Between classes and all the workshops and lecture series like the ones offered through the Global Affairs Center, you get a multi-pronged education. If I could offer one piece of advice to students it would be to go to everything you can and participate in every way you can, and eventually that exposure to new ideas will pay off when your path falls into place.”
Catch Nick Begley’s talk Farming of the Future: Feeding Everyone in the 21st Century on Tues., Oct. 25 from 12:30-1:30 p.m. in the PUB Quiet Dining Room (9208). This talk is sponsored by the Shoreline Community College Global Affairs Center.
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