At SXSW, the Refresh Working Group (RWG) will be screening Amy Wu’s documentary, From Farms to Incubators, a powerful portrait of female entrepreneurs in AgTech. An award-winning journalist, Wu joined the RWG to participate in the conversation on food justice, equitable food access, and the positive role technology can play in agriculture. By highlighting the undeniable importance and value of diversity in AgTech, her film is an essential contribution to discussions at the nexus of food and technology.
The film begins in Menlo Park at the Thrive AgTech Innovation Forum. Erica Riel-Carden, a first generation Filipino-American and AgTech consultant, talks about wanting to own a farm, about her heritage, about how food was the way she wanted to express love. Cut to a presentation with all white men on the stage and mostly white men in the crowd, statistics hovering over them: “Women control just 7% of US farmland. And own only 14% of US farms.” But those statistics go down easily compared to something Riel-Carden says about her own experience as a woman in AgTech: “In the tech space, I generally have to talk second. I can’t talk first.”
Dr. Le Thuy Vuong, Founder and CEO of The Redmelon Company, set out to address Vitamin A deficiency in her home country, Vietnam. A serious issue there, it leads to children with compromised immune systems and older women with night blindness. Dr. Vuong discovered a potent homegrown source: the Vietnamese red melon. She tells one story about meeting a group of local leaders in a town where she was going to study the effectiveness of her new red melon extract. All men, the group was watching pornography. It was in English, so they asked her to translate. She told them to turn it off, and went about the business of helping to prevent the people in that village from getting sick or going blind.
“There’s no other women around”
Dr. Vuong’s experiences of forging her own path in an environment that was, at times, hostile to her is a common one for many of the other women featured in From Farms to Incubators. But their stories also highlight how, by creating proven products that solve difficult problems in the food system, these women were able to overcome the social and cultural barriers that stood in their way. Two of the film’s many inspiring figures, Jessica Gonzalez and Rivka Garcia at HeavyConnect, expanded on their roots in the Salinas community and relationships with growers to design community-centered software. Their dedication to developing an app that prioritizes users’ needs has made HeavyConnect a success.
In the end, the film shows how important diversity is for solving the most challenging problems in the food system.
Watch the film and hear filmmaker Amy Wu speak with many other women working across the food system in the “Telling a Different Story: Women, Tech, Farming, and Food” panel ahead of the film screening. Click here for more details.