A Conversation with Amy Wu

By Rebecca Lam

Wed, 10 Oct 2018

As we count down to Ag 4.0, we had a chat with our chairwoman, Amy Wu. Amy is a veteran journalist and the founder of Farms to Incubators, a digital storytelling platform that profiles women in agtech. We speak about how her career in investigative journalism brought her to the agriculture industry, and the importance of women in agriculture.

 

Can you tell us a bit about your background, and how you ended up in the agriculture industry?

I am a first generation Chinese-American and a native New Yorker. My father is a scientist and professor but beyond him being a cook in his younger days (he cooked his way through McGill University), I don’t come with a family history in farming. My background is in journalism and I spent 24 years as a professional journalist at newspapers, magazines and websites. I have reported on everything from Woodstock ’94 to mergers and acquisitions on Wall Street.

I fell into writing about agriculture and agtech when I moved to Salinas in 2015 to work for The Salinas Californian as a senior reporter. Agriculture is a $9 billion industry in the Salinas Valley and at least 80% of the country’s leafy greens are grown in Salinas. The city of Salinas at the same time was quickly stepping up efforts to grow the agtech sector, and work with local universities, the big agriculture companies based here, and industry organizations such as Western Growers. Salinas Valley’s moniker is the “salad bowl of the world” and agriculture is the main economic engine in this region. I quickly learned there are so many amazing people, from farmworkers to innovators, working in this industry and many stories that were untold. 


Can you tell us about ‘From Farms to Incubators’? What led you to develop the project?

I came to Salinas as an outsider and in many ways this was a blessing because I see things from another point of view and a different lens. In living and working in Salinas, I marveled at the sheer scale of agriculture here, and at the same time was fascinated with the city’s efforts to develop the agtech sector as a means of economic development. Salinas is overall a working class city and plagued with Mexican gangs, overall poor education system and there is a large migrant population here too. In covering government, economy and agriculture, I fast observed there weren’t many women farmers or owners. In attending ag related meetings I noticed I was often the only woman much less minority. In walking into the Western Growers’ Center for Innovation and Technology (a workspace and incubator for agtech startups), I started wondering how many companies were launched and led by women. This started the question: how many agtech companies were launched and led by minority women entrepreneurs? At the same time the International Center for Journalists launched a grant competition seeking stories that focus on women entrepreneurs and business, so I pitched them the story series to ICFJ and I was awarded the grant. The project included a mini documentary and an article series that originally ran in The Salinas Californian.  The project was subsequently awarded a second grant from the International Media Women’s Foundation.  

Amy Wu

 

How do you think a woman’s role in farming has changed in the last decade?

I think there are more women now working in agriculture in a variety of roles whether it be scientists in R&D, marketing managers at big ag companies, or slowly but surely there are even women who are director of farm operations. In the agtech sector it is very encouraging as there are women entrepreneurs and innovators who come from a variety of backgrounds within STEM. Agtech opens the door to female entrepreneurs and innovators in agriculture and technology, two sectors that are traditionally male dominated. 

 

What do you think is the most important topic in agriculture right now?

One of the most important topics in agriculture is how to develop the next generation of innovators and entrepreneurs in ag and tech, and create a knowledge-based workforce in agriculture. This conversation resolves around career and opportunities. Many people, especially young people, think falsely believe that ag is all field work but there are so many different opportunities in areas such as research, development, business development, marketing, data, statistics, sales, food safety, to name a few.

 
What are your thoughts on the Ag 4.0 workshop? Are there any aspects you are particularly excited about?

I think a workshop is an excellent platform for discussion and brainstorming some of the key challenges and opportunities in agriculture. The wide range of topics and types of technologies, and how they can potentially address some of growers’ biggest challenges excites me. The 20 workshops touch on a wide range of technologies from blockchain to biotechnology and how these can be used to improve efficiency and profitability for farmers. I am really excited there is a workshop of some amazing female leaders in agriculture and I am honored to sit on that workshop.

 

What has been the biggest challenge and the biggest highlight in your career thus far?

Creating From Farms to Incubators has been both the biggest highlight and challenge of my career thus far. I come from a background of being an investigative journalist, so it has been an exciting journey transitioning from journalist for newspapers to using my digital storytelling skills to communicate agtech and agriculture to the general public. The startup is unique in that it is content based, but I strongly believe video, audio and the written word are powerful tools in telling the stories of the innovators, entrepreneurs and leaders in agriculture.

 
Do you have any advice for women who are starting their career in agriculture?

My advice for women who want to launch a career in agriculture is to follow your passion and to not lose sight of why you went into this in the first place. Also, find good mentors and cherish your mentors. A good mentor is priceless and they have your interest in mind first and foremost. 

 
Do you have any exciting upcoming projects?

My focus is on expanding From Farms to Incubators and the profiles of women agtech leaders on the website. I am also working on completing the book profiling amazing women leaders in agtech.

 

Connect with From Farms to Incubators

 

Website: www.farmstoincubators.com

Facebook: @FarmstoIncubators

Twitter: @FarmtoIncubator

Instagram: @farmstoincubators

 

Ag 4.0 Workshop  

Join Amy Wu and leading industry experts at Ag 4.0, a workshop aimed at improving the understanding of modern agriculture practices and creating interoperable solutions. Amy will be chairing the two-day workshop and speaking on the panel: Women in Ag

Be part of a workshop where farmers will be given the opportunity to tell AgTech companies what they need, rather than the other way around. If you are a farmer or grower – secure your FREE ticket here.

 


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Rebecca Lam

rlam@challenge.org

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