Here’s the bad news first: women are grossly under-represented in the finance and investment space, especially in key decision-making and leadership roles.
Just take a look at some of the stats:
- In the U.S., female representation in investment decision-maker roles sits at just 10% in 2022, according to Alpha Architect.
- Women account for less than 15% of check-writers in the Venture Capital (VC) space, according to Harvard Business Review.
- Women still comprise just 30-35 percent of the overall Private Equity (PE) workforce in America in 2022, according to a McKinsey, and only 10% of women have senior roles, and women of color hold only 1% of those roles.
While data for representation of women specifically in regenerative food systems investment does not exist, the state of representation in the larger traditional finance and investment systems suggests a similar trend.
Now for the good news: The regenerative agriculture and food investing space may be small but there is a growing list of capable, passionate, and driven women working to drive investment into a new, resilient food system.
We’ve identified women in the U.S. who are leading the effort to unlock capital that can be used to remove barriers to regeneration and build a healthy and resilient food system (listed in alphabetical order by last name):
Connie Bowen, Farmhand Ventures
Connie Bowen is passionate about driving more investment towards improving agrifood systems in an intentionally inclusive way. She actively does this as a co-founder of Farmhand Ventures, an impact venture studio focused on building the future of work in ag. She’s also a Venture Investor with The Yield Lab Europe, co-founder of The Yield Lab Institute, and co-creator of the Women in Agrifood Directory.
Dr. Ashlie L Burkart, MD, Chief Scientific Officer, Germin8 Ventures
Dr. Ashlie L Burkart, MD is the Chief Scientific Officer at Germin8 Ventures — a venture capital firm that impact invests in the food and agriculture space — and is an Associate in the Environmental and Natural Resources Department at Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, the No. 1 university think tank in the world. At Harvard, she recently led an event on “Innovation, Investment and Policy in Regenerative Agriculture”. Dr. Burkart is also a practicing gastrointestinal pathologist and grant-funded researcher in gut health.
Sallie Calhoun, No Regrets Initiative
Sallie Calhoun owns and manages Paicines Ranch, a 7600-acre ranch in central California. She is also an impact investor, activist, and philanthropic funder in regenerative agriculture. Her work focuses on improving the health of agricultural soils and sequestering carbon in soil to mitigate climate change, while creating thriving communities. She is the founder of the No Regrets Initiative, which seeks to use a wide variety of forms of capital—human, natural, investment, and philanthropic—to affect change in the agricultural system.
In 2001, she and her husband sold a software company and purchased Paicines Ranch, which has been a working ranch since the mid-1800s. Since then she has operated the ranch implementing holistic management to improve the health of the soil, increase biodiversity, and produce grass-fed beef and lamb. Every year, dozens of ranchers, farmers, activists, philanthropists, sustainable agriculture investors and conservationists attend seminars at Paicines Ranch’s conference center. She is the managing member of Cienega Capital, an impact investing firm, and the president of the Globetrotter Foundation, a family foundation.
Jensyn Hallett, Director, Impact Capital Hiefer International
As the Director of Impact Capital at Heifer International, she builds long-term relationships with funders and impact investors who are dedicated to creating meaningful, systemic change. With her experience in program design, fundraising and business development, she develops innovative investment partnerships that bring about sustainable impact within the communities where Heifer works. Since joining Heifer International in 2014, Jensyn has spearheaded resource development strategies engaging a wide range of local, national and international funders, including government agencies, corporations, foundations and individuals. Prior to her time at Heifer, Jensyn worked with Catholic Charities, where she led a team that designed and implemented human-centered, community-focused programs and built the organization’s community services department.
Donna Holmes, VP, Investor Relations, Iroquois Valley Farmland REIT
Donna has over 15 years of experience within the investment management industry. Currently, she serves as Vice President, Investor Relations at Iroquois Valley Farmland REIT. The REIT is a mission based investor and works to combat climate change, to provide nutritious and flavorful food and to improve rural economies. Previously, Donna served as Managing Director, Business Development and Client Service at Lizard Investors LLC. At Lizard, she helped build the firm’s infrastructure and developed a sales strategy to target institutional investors. Donna began her career at Tremblant Capital, a global long-short equity manager based in New York. Prior to working in investment management, Donna practiced law, specializing in ERISA matters. Her practice addressed the ERISA implications of corporate transactions, as well as qualified retirement plan issues, and executive compensation arrangements. Donna is a member of 100 Women in Finance and Women in Funds.
Renske Lynde, General Partner, 1st Course Capital
Renske Lynde is an investor, philanthropist, and advocate for a healthy and sustainable food system. She has been actively developing the entrepreneurial ecosystem in food and agriculture since 2012. Renske is general partner of 1st Course Capital, an early-stage food and agriculture venture capital fund investing in pre-seed to seed-stage companies that are transforming how we grow, produce, and distribute food. She was an angel investor in companies including Imperfect Foods, Lineage Logistics, and Full Cycle Bioplastics. Renske is also co-founder, former CEO, and current board president of Food System 6, a nonprofit accelerator. FS6 has graduated seven cohorts and maintains a 90% survival rate.
Lauren Manning, Croatan Institute
Lauren Manning, Esq., LL.M., is an attorney, law professor, and farmer with a dedicated passion for all things farming. Before joining Croatan Institute, Lauren was a venture capital investor with food and ag-focused VC firm AgFunder where she focused on deal flow and due diligence. Lauren began with AgFunder in 2015 as part of AgFunderNews media and research team reporting on issues involving finance, agriculture, climate change, and more. From 2019 to 2021, Lauren supported the Sacred Cow documentary and book project discussing the nutritional, environmental, and ethical case for (better) meat production. Lauren owns a small farm in Northwest Arkansas where she raises cattle, sheep, and goats. She is a partner with Ozark Pasture Beef, a direct-to-consumer grass-finished and pasture-based livestock partnership selling beef and lamb. In her spare time, you will usually find Lauren on a horse.
Lolita Nunn, Director of Programs and Investor Relations, Potlikker Capital
Lolita is a passionate changemaker that is dedicated to bringing resources, support and knowledge to people and communities that have been systemically and historically excluded. She brings over 25 years of diversified and progressive experience in both the nonprofit and for-profit sectors to the Potlikker Capital team. She worked in the banking industry for 14 years where she developed expertise in finance, investment banking and management. Her passion for philanthropy led her to a career change working in the nonprofit and then to the sector of impact investing where she could further champion positive social, racial, and environmental systems change. Lolita is committed to building strong and resilient communities. Recently aligning her passion for food system justice, she became one of the founding coalition members of the Washtenaw Black Farmers Fund. Her volunteer efforts through serving on local boards and committees have worked to address the need for at-risk youth, access to healthy and affordable food, financial literacy and supporting women empowerment.
Robyn O’Brien, rePlant Capital
Robyn O’Brien is a co-founder and Managing Director of rePlant Capital, a financial services firm scaling climate solutions on farm. She is also a Fulbright scholar, best-selling author and widely recognized speaker on global food systems. In 2020, she was recognized on Forbes Impact 50 List for her work at the intersection of agriculture and climate. Robyn is also an adjunct professor at Rice University’s Jones School of Business. She is a recognized global speaker and mother of four.
With a twenty year career in food and finance, Robyn has been called “food’s Erin Brockovich” by the New York Times and Bloomberg for asking tough questions such as “Are we allergic to food or what’s been done to it?”
Jenny O’Connor, Funders for Regenerative Agriculture (FORA)
After over 8 years managing and evaluating food security and rural health programs in Africa, Jenny founded Guidelight Strategies, a strategic consulting firm focused on the design and implementation of strategic initiatives in the food/ag and environment sectors. In 2020, Jenny developed and published a national landscape analysis of the barriers for ranchers and farmers to transition to regenerative agriculture in the US, alongside Patagonia. She also supported the SAFSF special project and roadmap on US fiber systems, led by Sarah Kelley. Jenny now serves as the Executive Director of FORA, Funders For Regenerative Ag, as well as continuing to oversee the work of Guidelight.
Calla Rose Ostrander, Founding Partner, Terra Regenerative Capital
Calla Rose Ostrander a founding partner of Terra Regenerative Capital, an catalytic investment fund whose mission is to accelerate the adoption of regenerative practices by opening up access to value-add markets. Terra Regenerative Capital provides flexible funds and development services to aggregation, processing and manufacturing businesses that are dedicated to sourcing from regenerative producers. A political economist by training, she has spent the past ten growing the regenerative agriculture movement by working with funders, governments and communities to foster adoption, policy and investment.
Calla Rose is also a team member of the People, Food & Land Foundation where she supports The Carbon Project, Restore & Regenerate California, and community composting. She is an advisor to Mycelium Youth Network and Kiss the Ground, and has served on the boards of Californians Against Waste, The Laughing Coyote Project, Mad Agriculture, LA Compost, and as a special advisor on climate change and natural and working lands with the State of California Natural Resources Agency. Prior to her work in regenerative agriculture she spent a decade working in local climate policy for the City of Aspen and the City and County of San Francisco.
Esther Park, CEO, Cienega Capital
Esther is the CEO of Cienega Capital, a regenerative investment firm utilizing an integrated capital approach to systemic change in the areas of soil health, regenerative agriculture, and local food systems. Cienega Capital is also part of the #NoRegrets Initiative, a regenerative asset strategy focused on the health of agricultural soils and agricultural communities in North America. Esther has over 20 years of experience in mission-based financial services ranging from microfinance to risk capital investments, in partnership with financial institutions, family offices, foundations, and investment advisors. She is also a faculty member of the Just Economy Institute.
Toni Stanger-McLaughlin, J.D., CEO, Native American Agriculture Fund
Toni Stanger-McLaughlin, J.D., a citizen of the Colville Confederated Tribes, serves as the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Native American Agriculture Fund (NAAF), which provides grants to eligible organizations for business assistance, agricultural education, technical support, and advocacy services to support Native farmers and ranchers. Mrs. Stanger-McLaughlin has compassionately worked in agriculture law and policy for many years. Before being named the CEO of NAAF, she served as the first NAAF Director of Programs where she assisted the development and delivery of millions of dollars of NAAF philanthropic investment in Tribal food systems.
Mrs. Stanger-McLaughlin started her agricultural career working in the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) headquarters in Washington D.C., within the Office of Civil Rights. She then moved from the Office of Civil Rights to the USDA Office of Tribal Relations in the Office of the Secretary. While in this position, she worked across multiple USDA agencies and offices as well as other federal departments to advance Tribal needs in agriculture, natural resources, land use and infrastructure development.
Evi Steyer, Co-Founder, Ponderosa Ventures
Evi Steyer is a Co-Founder of Ponderosa Ventures, a venture capital firm backing seed stage companies in the food, agriculture, and ocean sectors. Rooted in the thesis that we will not solve our climate, biodiversity, water, or human health challenges without transforming our food supply chain, Ponderosa invests in resilient, diverse teams. Evi was previously with Astanor Ventures and Generation IM. Her academic work focused on the role of regional processing infrastructure in enabling regenerative livestock production.
Kat Taylor, TomKat
Like so many young Americans in the 1960s, Kat vividly remembers the assassinations of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., President John F. Kennedy, Senator Robert Kennedy, and Malcolm X. The country was in the midst of a fight to obtain justice and equality for all of its people, as it still is today. As someone fortunate enough not to be deprived of the American dream based on bigotry and brutality, Kat is committed to being an ally against the moral injustices and exploitative economic systems which undermine what our American society could truly be – a Beloved Community for all people. In partnership with communities across the United States, Kat works in service of restoring social, racial, and gender justice and environmental well-being for an equitable and inclusive world.
Olivia Watkins, Co-Founder and President, Black Farmer Fund
Olivia Watkins (she/her/hers) is a social entrepreneur and impact investor. For the past seven years, she has financed, developed, and operated environmental and social projects across the US. She currently serves as a co-founder and President of Black Farmer Fund. She also serves as a board member for Soul Fire Farm Institute. Prior to founding Black Farmer Fund in 2017, Olivia worked in several production roles at Soul Fire Farm Institute and Kahumana Organic Farms, leveraging her environmental biology background to manage and grow environmentally regenerative and socially impactful business operations.
Olivia has an MBA from North Carolina State University in Financial Management, and a BA from Barnard College, Columbia University in Environmental Biology. She was also recognized on the 2021 Forbes 30 under 30 Social Impact list and The Grist 50.
Here are some others working with organizations based outside of the U.S. that are also charting new courses for regenerative agriculture and food systems investment:
Sarah Nolet, Tenacious Ventures
Sarah Nolet is an internationally recognized agriculture innovation expert, the CEO and Founder of AgThentic, a global food and agriculture strategy firm, and co-founder of Tenacious Ventures, Australia’s only specialist agrifood tech VC firm. Sarah has been instrumental in building the early stage agtech ecosystem in Australia – from advising dozens of startups, designing accelerator programs and consulting to established agribusinesses, to helping industry, universities and government develop and implement forward-looking initiatives in food system innovation. Sarah is also the host of the AgTech…So What? podcast, featuring bi-weekly stories on nontraditional innovators in agriculture. She has been ministerially appointed to the board of Industry, Innovation and Science Australia (IISA), and she holds a Masters in System Design and Management from MIT, and a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science and Human Factors Engineering from Tufts University.
Anouk Schoors, The Nest
Anouk leads The Nest’s allocations that aim at building more resilient food systems. With an engineering & economics degree, an enormous passion for food&ag, and a huge respect for nature, she looks for initiatives and collaborations that can help drive systemic change in our food system. The goal is to marry environmental health, human health and nutritional value by bringing back a holistic view on our food system. Formerly in strategy consulting, with solid experience in both the non-profit world and family advisory, she focuses on bringing the corporate and philanthropic worlds closer together to drive profound shifts.
Anna Van Der Hurd, Chief Executive, The A Team Foundation
Anna Van Der Hurd is the Chief Executive Officer for The A Team Foundation, a U.K. based philanthropic charity that supports food and land projects that are ecologically, economically and socially conscious, contributing to the wider movement that envisions a future where real food is produced by enlightened agriculture and all will have access to it. Anna has guided the Foundation’s strategic direction since its inception in 2009.
Who did we miss? Send us a note and let us know what other female leaders are driving investment in regenerative agriculture and food.