Staff spotlight: Kathie uses each day to make a difference

Bringing small towns to life, or giving them a new shot at life, is how Kathie Starkweather spends her days, and she wouldn’t have it any other way.

Director of the Farm and Community program at the Center for Rural Affairs, Kathie has served rural Nebraska for the last 10 years.

She guides and facilitates staff toward building vibrant, small towns in the areas of community development, beginning farmers, conservation practices, food access, security, and equity. She sees herself as lead “dreamer” – if we can dream it, we can do it.  So, her team takes on the big things, with the necessary planning and steps needed to achieve those dreams.

Starkweather fully recognizes how lucky she is to get to work with such dedicated, passionate, and smart colleagues every day. She says that’s another favorite part of her job.

“My team rocks – we do such great work in all the areas we are focused,” she said. “We can and do help change lives for the better through our work, and that is a true gift for which I'm really grateful.”

Before accepting her current position, Kathie was a community organizer for the Center. During that time, she worked on the rural development title of the farm bill. Previously to that, her degree in sociology led to Kathie serving as a rural sociologist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service.

While there, she dedicated her time to the areas of community betterment, conservation, and equity while working closely with community leaders. She also conducted social impact assessments relative to various farming practice changes, and developed and administered a training program around equity.

“Improving the lives of rural community members, with a grounding of equity, has always been my goal,” Kathie said. “I love the staff at the Center, and how dedicated everyone is to doing the best possible work for rural America.”

Kathie’s passion for rural America began at a young age. She grew up on a farm near Raymond, Nebraska, a town of about 100 people. Her family grew corn and soybeans, and Kathie learned the importance of hard work and persistence by helping out on the farm. She credits her parents with instilling in her a pride in rural America and a drive to preserve it.

“Community matters,” she said. “My parents taught me that if you want to change something, get involved.”

That way of thinking has only intensified over the years, and she now directs that attitude toward her work. She says it boils down to people – meeting them where they are at and serving them in their aspirations.

“When I’m able to see the look on a new grower’s face who just finished their first year with an abundant harvest of healthy food because of one of our projects, I’m reminded how lucky I am to get to do this work,” she said. “That’s also true whether it’s helping build a regional food system or getting healthy food into schools. There are so many assets to rural America that are often overlooked because we focus so much on what we don't have. I'd love to change that outlook.”

Kathie mainly serves Nebraska communities, but also works in rural areas outside of the state. She can be reached at her home office in Lincoln at 402.617.7946 or kathies@cfra.org.