Women at the Forefront
by Iris Nolasco
A little over a week ago, From Farms to Incubators presented its mini-documentary at the 38th Annual EcoFarm Conference, bringing some of the women from the documentary to the stage to discuss the challenges and opportunities for women in the agtech space.
Erica Riel-Carden, Teresa Matsui, and Poornima Parameswaran gave accounts of
their experiences in the sector sharing everything from fundraising to what diversity and inclusion means for their businesses. As Parameswaran says in the filmwhen referring to the challenges faced as a young minority woman, you put “work first, technology first, and find a way to blaze a trail through the rest”.Their stories offered an inspiring glimpse into the lives of women who are affecting change in their communities, state, or on the national platform.
Thursdays keynote speech by Doria Robinson and John Ikerd focused on eliminating hunger. Robinson, is the executive director of Urban Tilth,a community based urban agriculture initiative in Contra Costa County, where they work with the local community to produce fresh food, and educate high school students about the types of food they deserve to be eating. Robinson discussed wanting to create a local minority run farmer co-op in the city of Richmond, where there are close to 300 convenience stores, and only one grocery store with fresh food. Robinson also expressed the need for changing roles in the food system from producers to consumers, setting the tone for reconnecting and reorienting food around the community.
Other female panelists throughout the duration of the conference, discussed issues ranging from their personal farming experiences, and how they defined their roles on the farm; to how being an activist impacted policies and stopped actions that would degrade native agricultural lands and natural resources.
Winona LaDuke, an Anishinaabe tribal women from the White Earth reservation, the largest indian reservation in Minnesota, wrapped up the conference with her keynote speech about honoring land, food systems, and community. LaDuke is an activist, author, and former two-time green party vice-presidential candidate. She is a vivid story-teller who discussed what it means to have human capital return to the places we come from and while it may be difficult to remain in one place, sometimes the strongest moves made are not always the most comfortable ones.
While having these women sharing their experiences at the conference was inspiring and powerful, there was a sense of absence of support in some of the sessions, especially by male counterparts. It would be great to see allies in the mainstream population of the agriculture. Perhaps the use of social media and digital tools further helps equalize the field.
Helena Sylvester from Happy Acre Farm,a small 2.5 acre farm in Alameda County, discussed utilizing social media to boost outreach of their farms offerings. At first however, she was writing in the voice of a male farmer, hiding behind the camera as she felt that a males perspective would bring more people to their business. She changed that and started writing in her own voice and soon became comfortable with her life as a farmer.
Women, whether in agtech, farming, policy or activism, are bringing forth powerful change in the agriculture industry. While venues such as EcoFarm create a space for women and minorities voices to be heard, there is still so much more work to do to increase these types of opportunities and supportive environments for those who have innovative ideas and solutions to contribute to the agriculture economy.
Photos by Iris Nolasco