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In Conversation with #WomeninAg: Naomi Starkman

Posted by Rachael Dubinsky and Wendy Wasserman, Office of Communications in Conservation Initiatives
Apr 02, 2015
Former farmer Naomi Starkman is now the editor of Civil Eats, an award winning blog covering food and agriculture. Photo credit: Naomi Fiss.
Former farmer Naomi Starkman is now the editor of Civil Eats, an award winning blog covering food and agriculture. Photo credit: Naomi Fiss.

In agriculture we know that the work of women in our field reaches far beyond one month out of the year and should be celebrated every day. We got such a great response to our Women’s History Month weekly profiles in March that we will now be expanding to a monthly series. We will continue to feature women leaders across agriculture who are opening doors for their peers and contributing to the larger conversation about #womeninag.

To help us get started, this month, we profile Naomi Starkman, the founder and editor-in-chief of Civil Eats. Naomi is also a founding board member and advisor to the Food & Environment Reporting Network. A recovering lawyer, Naomi has worked as a media consultant at The New Yorker and Newsweek magazines and on several farms.

Since 2009, Civil Eats has produced thousands of food and agriculture stories from a stable of hundreds of contributors including a recent post about how women farmers are working with each other to develop stronger networks in Wisconsin and across the country. Last year, Civil Eats was named the James Beard Foundation’s Publication of the Year.

Naomi’s leadership in communications has brought new voices into the conversation about American agriculture. From her home in rural Petaluma, California, Naomi talked about the animals who greet her every morning, how she keeps her brain happy, and the women who have inspired from her previous farming days into her current life.

How do you start your day?

I open my eyes, listen to the sheep, chicken, donkeys and birds making morning noises, and thank the heavens above that I live in the country. Then I look at my iPhone to make sure nothing in the food news world has blown up (too much). Then I have some tea, do my morning yoga, and go for a walk on my country road. Pretty luck, huh?

Who are your heroines in agriculture?

Farmers, without whom we would not eat. In particular, my farming mentor and dear friend, Susan Ujcic of Helsing Junction Farm, where I farmed. As a woman pioneer in organic farming and one of the most generous human beings I’ve ever met, Sue is my role model of how to be in the world. I am also so grateful to my farming mentors Linda Halley of Gardens of Eagen and Judith Redmond of Fully Belly Farm, and to the women on the advisory board of Civil Eats: Anna Lappé, Marion Nestle, Ruth Reichl, and Alice Waters. And of course, Joan Gussow and Kathleen Merrigan. And a huge amount of respect for the lady food and agricultural reporters who cover this issue.

What are you reading?

I don’t watch TV, but I read incessantly. Because so much of what I do is news-related, it’s important for me to read a lot fiction to keep my soul balanced and keep my imagination alive. I’ve got a lot of cookbooks on my nightstand and I also listen to a lot of music to keep my brain happy.

What’s the view outside your window and how does it influence your work?

Green pastures dotted with fat sheep, braying donkeys, and chirping birds. And there are some incredible hawks which swoop in, too.

What do you usually have for breakfast?

Tea, fruit, cereal.

Do you consider yourself a woman leader in agriculture?

I consider myself a sister in agriculture. I stand beside the many, many women who have come before me, and who have been on the frontlines of agriculture, and in the fields. I am only as strong as the people with whom I work, support, and am lucky to call my friends and colleagues. It is they who lift me up and if I am a leader in their eyes, then I am grateful.

As a former farmer, how does your current occupation support agriculture?

Having  worked on several farms across the U.S., I understand the risk and reward of being a farmer; I earned my “dirt cred” and an inside view on agriculture. It was the hardest work I’ve ever done and I am endlessly grateful for the farmers who feed us and who are stewards of the land. This work is so vital and it is a privilege to be able to share the stories of a growing food movement, those connecting with the land, and building a new food economy. I believe in the power of storytelling and the stories we share on Civil Eats inspire me every day.

In 7 words or less, what is some advice you would offer to the next generation of women in ag.

Women plant seeds for a better tomorrow!

From farmers and scientists to policy makers and communicators, women are at the forefront of agriculture.  Check out previous Conversations with #womeninag with Anne Alonzo, Administrator of USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service;  cattlewoman Minnie Lou Bradley of Bradley 3 Ranch; National Young Farmers Coalition founder Lindsay Lusher Shute; and Dean of the College of Agriculture at Virginia State University Dr. Jewel Hairston. You can continue to follow our conversation with #womeninag on Storify.

Is there a leading women in agriculture you would like to hear from? Send us your suggestions using #womeninag or sign up for the Women in Agriculture Mentoring Network at

Category/Topic: Conservation Initiatives