The hand that feeds: Software CEO delivers lecture on avoiding a global food crisis


Manhattan is comfortably nestled in blankets of farmland that help feed much of the country’s population. Kansas State has had strong and thriving agriculture interest for years, developing its food, plant and animal science programs diligently.

However, Sara Menker, founder and CEO at Gro Intelligence, said there is still so much to learn about agriculture, including how to avoid a global food crisis.

Menker and her company created a system that allows people to look at agriculture data in a simplified and comprehensive way. Menker spoke in McCain Auditorium on Monday night, using humor and an interactive presentation to explain how her company uses a funnel to comb through data points and organize them in a way that makes it easier for a person to obtain specific data.

“The data that we deal with comes in multiple languages and formats,” Menker said. “It could be imagery, it could be PDF files, it could be PDF files with images slammed on top of it … Beyond the complexity of what it actually entails, you also have extreme diversity in the way that the data is reported because it’s global.”

Menker said much of what her company had to do in order to establish the system was manual. She said they had to gather sources from people who knew a lot about different sectors. After the infrastructure was complete, the system worked automatically.

As for why she quit her job on Wall Street to do it, Menker said she saw the revolutions in other markets, and when she saw how far behind agriculture was, she wanted to create something that could help.

“Agriculture is an eight trillion dollar market, and there isn’t a centralized repository that has normalized all of this information and allowed for information discovery to occur,” Menker said. “The fact that it is one of the oldest industries and the least understood was not okay with me.”

Menker described their mission in a few words: cheap and abundant food. A global food crisis may be looming in the near future, but Menker said there are solutions.

“It’s really simple and really difficult,” Menker said. “I think it’s simple because I think we actually have answers for it. It’s difficult because it involves a lot of behavioral change, and it involves a lot of people thinking collaboratively and together and acting together. The human aspect of this is a lot more complicated than the scientific side of things.”

This lecture was the fifth Henry C. Gardiner Global Food Systems Lecture. K-State president Richard Myers spoke prior to Menker, introducing her and explaining why K-State established the lecture series.

“As most of you know and as has been stated before, Kansas State University is a global leader among universities for our research in animal health, plant science, food science and food safety and security,” Myers said. “Now, we’re using our expertise to support the world’s food systems. It’s only fitting that we have a lecture series dedicated to global food systems—that’s what we do.”

Hi there! I’m Julie Freijat, a staff writer at the Collegian. I’m a freshman majoring in journalism and mass communications; I believe accessible and accurate information is critical for a healthy society. I love insects, I hate poor movie dialogue and my favorite subreddit is r/truecrime.