Jessica Starks is the CEO of 17 Plus, which currently houses two companies: J.D. Scribes, a creative media company for small businesses, and BOND Small Business Group, a promotional and developmental membership organization for small business owners.
In addition to her businesses, Jessica is also on the marketing team at Hill Country Network, an independent, locally-owned television channel and website that creates original programming to showcase the talent and beauty of North Mississippi, and those who reside in it.
Jessica is a Mississippi native, who is also a blogger, professional writer, and the author of a historical fiction novella, The Lynching Calendar. Mud & Magnolias magazine named Jessica one of the most influential women in Northeast Mississippi in 2017, and in January 2020 she was named one of the Top 50 Black Business Women in Mississippi.
When Jessica isn't working, she enjoys volunteering and participating in community activities, as well as reading, writing, cooking, and spending time with her family.
Tell us a little about your writing background.
I have been writing for almost a decade now! I started in 2013 as a writer for various digital outlets, and as the years progressed, I began to move into various other types of writing. I wrote for magazines, newspapers, and various other forms of copy for print and digital. I used to write for a fitness blog where I was always coming up with lists about healthy foods and recipes. I also have a personal blog called The Pen & The Needle where I write about different recipes I've tried.
Do you believe that being a writer helps you enjoy or appreciate food more?
In some ways, I do believe that being a writer does help you enjoy food more. Food is another art form, and in many ways, cooks are telling us stories through their food. And when you have a creative background, you have a way of understanding them and appreciating the art even more.
Do you have any favorite food shows?
My family and I love cooking shows! "Nailed It!" on Netflix; everything "Cake Wars" and "Cupcake Wars," and Worst Cooks in America," are some of our favorites.
Where do you turn for food inspiration?
I turn to my mom and my sister Gabby for food inspiration. They are both extremely creative in the kitchen, and we love coming up with different dishes together to taste and enjoy.
Do you ever grow your own food?
I come from a long line of farmers, and my father used to have a garden behind our house where he would grow anything from watermelon and apples, to broccoli and potatoes. I almost like to think I have a bit of a green thumb myself - I love growing pineapple, and I've recently started learning how to make my own extracts and tinctures from herbs and plants that I grow myself.
Tell us more about the pineapple. That grows in Mississippi?
Yes, I'm growing pineapple here in Mississippi! I randomly read about the process of growing it and learned that they thrive during the summer. Unfortunately, they take two years to grow a full pineapple, but the plants look pretty! I just took the top end of the pineapple and took some of the leaves off, then I put it in a pot and made sure to water it generously and give it plenty of sunlight. It was shockingly easy!
Do you catch your own food, too?
Again, thanks to my dad and grandfather, I love fishing! It's such a relaxing activity, yet gives you an unmistakable adrenaline rush when you feel that tug on your line!
Do you actively advocate for local food?
At BOND Small Business Group, we advocate for small and locally-owned businesses, and we have an annual event called The Pontotoc Food Fight. We invite local cooks and restaurants together to compete, let the public taste their food and vote, and win prizes! It’s our small way of allowing these local restaurants and food lovers to come together, network, and promote their businesses, all while doing something fun and family-friendly.
What do you snack on while on deadline?
When I have a major deadline and need to get things done, I love being able to grab a bag of trail mix. The sweet and salty combination just helps to relax me and keep me focused on my goal all at the same time.
Did you like meeting Jessica? We profile three writers per week, so visit often. If you're a writer who loves food, email firstname.lastname@example.org.