A story. It was a story that brought big city girl Amy Wu to Salinas Valley, California. Steinbeck country, she called it. As a journalist, she was offered a job as a government reporter for the local paper there. She was to write about the economy, which was small and flailing. In 2012, the region’s main employer had closed its offices and left 900 people out of work. What remained was mostly agricultural.
“The more I covered it, however, the more I realized two things:
First, that agriculture was the economy: a $9 billion industry. And the challenges it was facing were only going to increase; climate change, limited water and land supply, uncertainties in immigration policy, a severe labor shortage, and of course, feeding a rising population, which is estimated to reach 9 billion globally by 2050.
Second, where were all the women?”
When Wu began reporting, she could only find one female entrepreneur working in agriculture.
“Though women often make the food-related decisions in the household, and are a large part of the workforce in the lands in fields in many countries, farming, tech, and venture capital remain heavily male dominated.”
But, as often happens in a crisis, in 2015, Salinas was also becoming a fertile ground for innovation—pun intended! At the intersection agriculture and technology, a new industry was emerging:
“Agtech is any technology or innovation that helps farmers be more efficient or save a lot of money.”
It is the creative use of different technologies to solve agricultural problems, from self-driving tractors to affordable soil DNA tests… and women were leading it.
“These women are hoping to make a difference. They have the talent, creativity, and entrepreneurial drive.”
What they didn’t have, was a spokesperson.
Wu saw a story:
“From Farms to Incubators: WOMEN INNOVATORS REVOLUTIONIZING HOW OUR FOOD IS GROWN” new generation of startups, led by women from diverse backgrounds in Salinas Valley and beyond, providing novel perspectives and tech solutions to agriculture’s problems.
“I shifted from being a journalist to being a storyteller. I wanted to tell the stories of minority women agtech entrepreneurs, and as a result, instigating change. Bringing more women into the space.”
Her goal was to use content and digital storytelling to increase awareness of these women and their contribution, and encourage others like them to pursue careers in agtech.
She began with a documentary, “From Farms to Incubators,” profiling some of these women. The award-winning film was screened over two dozen film festivals and fifty venues, and was often paired with panel discussions, which served to connect women agtech entrepreneurs with investors and people interested in food, farming, and agtech.
From there, the project grew into a community, then a book:
“The more I got into this, the more stories I found that deserved to be told. Hence the book. There should be a way to continue telling these stories.”
Connect, educate, grow. The book is out. The project is far from over. Amy envisions Salinas becoming a mecca of Agtech, the combined boom of farming and tech making it possible for young people to stay in Salinas, close to their families, and have thriving careers.
“There is a culture here of celebrating family togetherness. Young people want to stay near their families, their roots, and this new “knowledge-based economy” can make that possible. People can stay, and have a good life, and make a good salary.”
When it comes to her own life,
“I don’t have a business plan. I like to do this. I’m good at this. I’m going to keep doing this and let it run its course.”
As to her advice for a young woman with a dream? Anyone with a dream?
“Just go with it. Just go with your passion. Feel free to explore the things you are interested in. Do not worry so much about where it will lead. If you are interested, try it. It’s ok not to have a background. I had no background in ag and tech.
Don’t be afraid of failure. When the doors close, find something else. Ask a lot of questions, and listen.”
Where to buy the book: AMAZON