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Casting a Wide Net

As a child, Talia Young ’01 didn’t spend much time near the ocean.

“I grew up in New York City, which is to say I did not have any relationship with wild fish,” she jokes. “But I was always interested in the environment. I spent a lot of time trying to convince people to recycle paper and help save the rainforest, but eventually began to wonder about the economic and social factors at play.”

At Swarthmore, she had a chance to apply ecological theory to research while studying invasive green crabs in the Plum Island Sound estuary outside Boston. The internship through the Marine Biological Laboratory Ecosystems Center in Massachusetts was a turning point.

“That was the moment I got hooked on salt marshes and the magic of those places that lie between the land and the sea,” she says. Now a postdoctoral fellow at Princeton’s Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Young has masterfully combined her biology background, passion for working with diverse communities, and commitment to sustainability to create Fishadelphia, a local, innovative—and mobile—seafood program funded by grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Local Food Promotion Program and the David H. Smith Conservation Research Fellowship.

“It’s heady and terrifying to be an entrepreneur,” says Young about the community-supported fishery program she developed and launched in February. But it’s working, thanks to the help of her project partner, Tasha Palacio, and their high-energy colleagues: 28 middle- and high-school students at Mastery Charter Thomas Campus, a South Philadelphia school where she once taught biology.

“Our model was to have an environmental education program where we also got to work on leadership, team-building, and business development skills,” says Young. “The students we’re working with are the loveliest group of young people and are central to our success.”

And mentorship from Swarthmore professors continues to be an important part of her professional trajectory: “Sara Hiebert Burch ’79 and Rachel Merz have both been invaluable mentors and cheerleaders for me, for this project, and in general.”

In its pilot season this spring, Fishadelphia sold seafood to customers from diverse communities across Philadelphia, providing 790 pounds of fish—including flounder, skate, and porgy, as well as squid—and 3,400 bivalves from New Jersey fishermen, harvesters, and processors.

Student workers weighed in on many of the business details, including how to address their customers, many of whom do not speak English fluently. Fishadelphia also held a savory cook-off, where neighbors traded recipes. Young led group field trips to the docks and processing plants in New Jersey where customers and students met the people who caught and harvested their seafood.

“Our fishery colleagues are another important part of this story,” says Young. “How we connect our harvesters to our customers helps the students study the relationships in business—when they visit the docks, they see it’s a multimillion-dollar operation.”

Stepping out of the academic role and into the world of business has delighted Young, who hopes to expand Fishadelphia to other neighborhoods in future rounds.

“I’m super excited,” she says. “It’s fun to be doing something where all the domains come together. It’s all we could have hoped for.”