While agriculture and technology are two sectors that remain male dominated, especially at the decision-making level, the reality is that a need for talent and the demographics of the 21st century workforce are morphing into one that is diverse. And, there is indeed much opportunity right here in the Salinas Valley for the younger generation of women that awaits to be fully seen.
However, there are also already a slew of women agtech entrepreneurs in the Salinas Valley, and while everyone’s individual story is diverse, they seem to share a common thread of being innovative, no-nonsense, have a background in STEM, are fairly well-educated, and on a whole, are young and in their 20’s and 30’s.
Here are some of their stories:
Recently, I completed an autumn road trip where I circled back with the minority women entrepreneurs in agtech who I first interviewed for my documentary, “From Farms to Incubators: Telling the stories of minority women entrepreneurs in agtech in the Salinas Valley and Beyond.”
This is what I found:
Another success story to point to is that of Jessica Gonzalez, a co-founder of the Salinas-based agtech startup HeavyConnect. In late 2017, Gonzalez left HeavyConnect and moved back to her native Merced to join her nine siblings to care for their ailing father and the family farm. Culture and family played a pivotal role in the decision, but the 27-year-old is far from giving up on her innovative dreams. She used her HeavyConnect experience and introduced mobile payment on the family farm for employees and to keep track of expenses. A budding entrepreneur, she also launched Golden Valley Honey, which produces and sells CBD-infused honey from the bees bred on her family farm.
New female agtech entrepreneurs include Penny Nagel, COO of San Diego-based Persistence Data Mining, a ninth-generation farmer and also an avid long distance swimmer, and Aubrey Donnellan, founder of Bay Area-based Bear Flag Robotics, which makes autonomous tractors.
Other women leaders at the intersection of agriculture and technology include Jacky Vasquez, who works at Andrew & Willamson, and is one of the few female farm field operators in Monterey County. I connected with Teresa Matsui, president of Matsui Nursery, whose family has funded programs such as CSin3 where students can attain degrees in computer science from Cal State Monterey Bay and Hartnell College in three years.
Lorri Koster, former CEO and chairwoman of Salinas-based, Mann Packing, noted during a recent discussion that it is critical to convey the message to the next generation of women that agriculture is much more than “tractors and overalls.”
There are many opportunities in research, development, marketing and yes, a tremendous opportunity in outreach, education and collaboration with young people at colleges and high schools in the Salinas Valley and beyond.
Amy Wu is the founder and chief content director of “From Farms to Incubators,” a resident company inside the WG Center for Innovation and Technology. She previously reported on ag for The Salinas Californian. She considers herself bicoastal and splits her time between New York and California.