Editor’s note: This article was originally published in Western Growers’ newsletter
“From Farms to Incubators: Telling the stories of minority women entrepreneurs in the Salinas Valley and beyond” recently screened at SXSW, one of the premiere annual music, film, and tech gatherings in the world. This was also my first time in Austin and I was excited to be there.
The screening was paired with a panel “Telling a different story: women, tech, farming and food,” moderated by Danielle Nierenberg, president of Food Tank. It also featured panelists Karen Washington of Rise and Root Farm; Kate Cox, editor of The New Food Economy; Audra Mulkern, a filmmaker and founder of the Female Farmer Project; and Vianney Rodriguez, the daughter of a migrant worker and author of two amazing cook books; and myself.
The engaging panel discussion that ensued included why investment remains a challenge for women entrepreneurs, what it would take to get more women leaders in the agtech sector, and the unique place storytelling and journalism holds in spotlighting women in food, farming, and technology.
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As the founder of “From Farms to Incubators,” a multimedia storytelling platform that spotlights women leaders in agtech, agriculture and food, being a part of this panel at SXSW was a milestone of sorts, too.
Nearly three years after my search on spotlighting women — particularly minorities — entrepreneurs in agtech started, I’ve had a chance to reflect on the real drive behind the initiative.
The women in my film each come with their compelling stories as to what drove them to start companies in the agtech sector, and it has been an amazing opportunity to follow their progress.
But the mission behind “From Farms to Incubators” goes beyond the documentary and now the book.
There’s the hope that by documenting these women’s stories, struggles, and successes in the form of film, photos, and a soon to be book, it will inspire and encourage the next generation of young people — especially women — to understand that agriculture is much more than tractors and overalls. It’s research, data, science, and marketing. It’s A.I., drones, blockchain, sensors, and vertical farming.
There is a real need for a knowledge-based workforce that requires skills to achieve 21st century farming. What better place to ignite change — and maybe even a paradigm shift — than the Salinas Valley, where agriculture is a $9 billion industry and where 80% of leafy greens are grown.
Since debuting at the Western Growers Center for Innovation and Technology in February 2017, “From Farms to Incubators” has screened at over a dozen venues in both California and New York, including the Carmel Film Festival, EcoFarm, the Maya Cinemas, Steinbeck Festival, The New Food Economy, and now SXSW.
SXSW is a milestone for From Farms to Incubators; there’s discussion and a recognition that in these fast-changing times, with the realities of a more diverse workforce, holding such conversations are critical to the success of local, state, and global economies. Kudos to The Refresh Project and Google (the sponsor of the SXSW event and The Refresh Project) for recognizing this and investing in this.
SXSW, a showcase for some of the most cutting-edge technologies, was the perfect backdrop to screen the film, spotlight the Salinas Valley and the innovation that is churning right in the valley. The core women featured in the film three years later have held steady on their journey and continue to grow their companies and products. Their personal and professional dreams intertwine with firsts, they continue to blaze a trail in ag and tech and food, and are pioneers in their own right.