By Ryan Cronk
A new exhibition at the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas highlights a diverse generation of women innovators and their contribution to agriculture by way of technology.
“From Farms to Incubators: Women Innovators in California Agtech,” which premiered last month, uses multimedia to tell the stories of these groundbreaking female leaders and entrepreneurs, with the ultimate goal of inspiring and encouraging youth to pursue similar careers in agricultural technology.
The exhibit kicked off with a virtual opening Nov. 12, as the Steinbeck Center remains closed to the public due to the coronavirus pandemic. A video of the exhibition, however, can be found online at steinbeck.org/womeninagtech, with viewing available through Jan. 12.
“There is no better time to celebrate women in leadership positions,” said Amy Wu, creator of “From Farms to Incubators,” who also recently completed a documentary and book of the same name. “The year 2020 is the centennial of women’s suffrage. … We need more women at the decision-making helm of all walks of life.”
Through photographs, paintings, sculptures and videos, the exhibit brings awareness to women with different cultural and ethnic backgrounds who have historically been underrepresented in the agtech industry.
Wu said a new generation of startups led by women are creating technologies to provide solutions to various challenges that growers face, including the severe labor shortage, limited water and land supply.
“Ultimately, I hope the exhibition, film series and book and events to come serve as vehicles to inspire youth, especially those from rural or underserved communities, to consider that agriculture is a sector that offers an amazing range of opportunities that involve innovation,” she said. “All of us who contributed to this special project remain very hopeful.”
Other speakers at the exhibit’s virtual opening included California State Sen. Anna Caballero, Western Growers Center for Innovation and Technology Director Dennis Donohue, DigitalNEST Founder Jacob Martinez and Frieda’s Specialty Produce CEO Karen Caplan, who all briefly spoke about the importance of women innovators.
Caballero said there is a correlation between the diversity of management teams and overall innovations.
“Companies that report above-average diversity on their management teams drive innovation-based revenue at nearly twice the rate of those companies that do not, and diverse companies have 22% lower turnover rate, which aids company growth immensely, according to Gallup,” she said. “So the data is clear — diversity works, and that includes starting at the top with women innovators, entrepreneurs and chief executive officers leading the technology revolution in agriculture.”
According to Martinez, the Salinas Valley is becoming the “agtech epicenter of the world,” but he said the community needs to ensure that youth, especially young women, are involved in that ecosystem or it risks losing them after they graduate from high school and college.
“We want those young people to come back to our home and find good jobs, find employment where they can use their creativity and their innovation to solve problems in this world,” said Martinez, who six years ago started DigitalNEST, a nonprofit youth workforce development and empowerment center headquartered in Watsonville with a location in Salinas.
“You can’t be what you can’t see,” he continued. “We need to highlight young women, innovators, entrepreneurs that are doing this work so that our future generations, or youth coming through, can see these leaders in their community and will believe that they can do it also.”
Following the guest speakers was a panel discussion led by Wu that featured some of the agtech industry’s leading women innovators, such as Marrone Bio Innovation Founder Pam Marrone, The Yield Founder Ros Harvey and Persistence Data Mining COO Penelope Nagel.
Although “From Farms to Incubators” will leave the Steinbeck Center in January, Wu said there are plans to bring the exhibition to other agriculture-based regions, including the cities of Gonzales, Sacramento and Fresno.
In addition, the forthcoming book will be published in April 2021, telling the stories of women entrepreneurs who use technology to help solve problems in the agriculture industry.
“The storytelling continues, as well,” Wu said. “We look forward to continuing to collect the stories of women founders in agtech and agbio and to add them to a future book and future documentary.”
For more on “From Farms to Incubators,” visit farmstoincubators.com.