Google Fiber’s SXSW Panel: How Women Fit Into Agriculture and Tech

This article by Lea Thompson covering the Refresh @ SXSW panel “Telling a Different Story: Women, Tech, Farming, and Food” originally appeared in the San Antonio Current. 

Women are responsible for nearly half of world’s food supply yet they struggle  to find support, accessing only an estimated 5 percent of all global farming resources.

Google Fiber hosted a special panel Telling a Different Story: Women, Tech, Farming, and Food, part of its Refresh: Food & Tech event during South By Southwest on Tuesday. The panel, moderated by Danielle Nirenberg of Food Tank, featured women leaders in media, tech and food production who are fighting to bring more women in agriculture and tech to the table.

The Food & Tech event was organized and led by the Refresh Working Group, a group developed by Google and Swell Creative Group.

Kate Cox, journalist, New Food Economy // “For years I had female entrepreneurs tell me that they felt there was a funding disparity for them,” Cox said. “There was nothing, no numbers to look at.”

She has since partnered with experts, journalists and women in AgTech to track that data, define the metrics and to find ways to improve food production and standards within the agricultural industry.

“Women’s [work] in any industry, but especially in agriculture, is still viewed as ‘passion projects’,” Cox said. “We have to talk about money… it’s tough but we got to get past it if we’re going to find success.”

Karen Washington, Rise & Root Farm // While women in agriculture and data are underrepresented and less likely to access venture capital, it’s even more difficult for minorities and women of color.

The black community helped introduce growing techniques and crops that are essential to modern day American food production, Washington said. “I’d like to see more women on stages like this… this [conversation] is not excluding men,” she said. “We need you to support us and uplift us. We need more women in technology because it’s not designed for us [minorities].”

Amy Wu, journalist and filmmaker, From Farms to Incubators // If we are looking to inspire and encourage a new generation of food scientists and farmers, we need relevant food curriculum introduced to early education and higher learning institutions.  and college.

“We can help to change the narrative,” Wu said, adding that women in AgTech and food education still needed more visibility, and thanked Google Fiber for hosting the women-panel.

“I’m seeing so many women in [agriculture and technology] meet and say ‘I didn’t know you existed,'” she added. “Those collaborations and data will be necessary to learn about agriculture and how to improve, to create and change food policy.”

Audra Mulkern, documentary filmmaker, The Female Farmer Project // Mulkern has developed a multimedia documentary — using her photography, podcast, writing and a forthcoming film — that follows women farmers throughout the world.

It’s important to highlight these stories and experiences from women in farming, and connect them with technology like robotics, Mulkern said. Her time as a Microsoft employee in the ’90s made her realize how few women were able to find the professional support or resources to succeed, “but we have to demand that data” because there’s still so much that hasn’t changed.

Vianney Rodriguez, San Antonio-based blogger // Tech and social media can separate us or help us to share stories, especially about our food. As the daughter of a migrant farm worker, Rodriguez realized at early age that food — eating, sharing and growing it — was essential to the human experience.

“Food is in our lives on so many levels. Your food doesn’t come from H-E-B, it comes from a farmer, it comes from a family,” she said, adding that she used it to show people the food growing process, and how families can incorporate better food into their diets. “The more we advocate and share the more people will realize the importance of what we do.”

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