back to blog Ricky Stephens April 4, 2018 10:14 a.m. EDT

Meet Our Members! Interview #1: Wythe Marschall

Note: We’re kicking off our blog by interviewing the members that make our community thrive; and to give you a true sense of what they do and why they do it.

1. What is your “job title”?

  • Anthropologist of technology (Ph.D. candidate), Harvard University.
  • Research associate, Cornell University.
  • Writer, Crash Course: History of Science. (Check it out/subscribe!)

2. What 3 subjects do you care most about in the world?

  • The future of urban life.
  • Ecologically sustainable agriculture.
  • Public understanding of the future of technology—AKA science fiction!

3. In what ways does your work incorporate these subjects?

Every novel technology starts as a story about the future… My dissertation and first book project examines the rise of controlled environment agriculture, especially vertical farming, in New York City. Vertical farming was a kind of science fiction about the future of food that has rapidly become a reality, raising important questions about urban dwelling, ecological sustainability, and what “good food” means to different people. As a Brooklynite and writer about the cultures that give rise to different technologies, I’m very lucky to live close to many CEA operations and have met so many CEA experts willing to share their visions of the future of American foodways.

4. How do you spend your time in an average work week?

  • 37% writing emails, taking calls, and/or revising chapters about the future of agriculture.
  • 23% writing/editing Crash Course scripts.
  • 20% visiting farms, squinting at my basil plants, and/or typing up and expanding fieldnotes.
  • 11% reading food and agriculture news.
  • 9% talking to people on Twitter about biotech news, hip hop, and how good oat milk tastes.

5. What were you doing 3 years ago?

Teaching science fiction studies and history of biotechnology at Harvard while also launching the Biodesign Challenge here in NYC.

6. What do you hope to be doing 3 years from now?

Polishing a book manuscript about how vertical farming took off in New York City while continuing to produce my “hit” nutri-nerd podcast, Yelling About Scientific Snacks (Y.A.S.S.).

7. Why does your work matter to you?

In the simplest sense, my work fills a gap in the social scientific literature regarding the future of agriculture: we need objective accounts of how technologists are intervening in food and agriculture. Ideally, my work will help coordinate a conversation about what good food is and how to help New Yorkers grow or otherwise access it. In what ways can we agree on the value of good food, or green cities, beyond market worth? Is that even a possibility? Who gets to be part of the conversation? How can we include more voices?

My work with Crash Course helps create fun stories about how technologies always have political and cultural dimensions: we need everyone, no matter how far removed from research or entrepreneurship, to think about how technologies shape their lives and bodies.

8. What is the #1 benefit you’ve received from being a part of the AgTech X community?

I’ve been able to learn directly from CEA entrepreneurs, growers, technologists, and hobbyists—to ask them directly why they’re excited about farming in and around the city, and what makes food “good” or healthy or socially just to them. I’ve learned so much from and been so inspired by this community. I can never hope to repay that debt, short of inviting everyone to make an appearance on Yelling About Scientific Snacks, once it moves from fiction to reality.

You can follow more of Wythe’s work, and his occasional rants, on Twitter.

About the Author

Ricky Stephens

Co-Founder, AgTech X.
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