Jamila Norman From “Homegrown” on Why She Recycles Nearly Everything


Jamila Norman has a few houseplants, for the record, all thriving, at her home in the West End neighborhood of Atlanta. But although she has room out back, there is no garden.

“My friends shame me for it,” Ms. Norman said. “They shame me for it all the time.”

Is she ashamed? She is not. Are those friends kidding? Let us hope.

Ms. Norman, 43, a former environmental engineer for the State of Georgia, is the owner of Patchwork City Farms, a 1.2-acre spread in the middle of the city that produces organic fruit, vegetables and herbs for restaurants and local farmers’ markets.

She has brought her knowledge and can-do spirit to full flower as the host of the Magnolia Network series “Homegrown.” On each episode, Ms. Norman, also known as Farmer J, helps someone transform an often wild-and-woolly outdoor space into a beautiful, functional backyard farm. (The show’s third season premiered on April 1.)

Ms. Norman spent her early years in Queens, New York, eventually moving with her family to Connecticut, then to Georgia. When she got to the University of Georgia, in Athens, Ga., she volunteered with a Boys and Girls Club, sometimes assisting with planting projects.

“I did not grow up gardening at all,” she said. “But while we were living in New York, we spent extended periods of time in Trinidad, where my father is from. That experience taught me to love the outdoors.”

A couple of Ms. Norman’s friends at college had property out in the country, where she’d go to “have some hippie moments.”

“So I had always kind of dabbled in nature,” she said. “And I’m a double earth sign.” (Specifically, Taurus sun and Taurus rising.)

Astrological imperatives notwithstanding, things didn’t go beyond dabbling until 2008, a few years after Ms. Norman moved to Atlanta from Athens — a long-deferred dream — and began helping out in the garden of a church. Later, she leased land for a farm at a middle school. In 2016, she bought the allotment that became the home of Patchwork City Farms. Conveniently, it’s a five-minute drive from her house.

“I knew I wanted to be in the West End,” Ms. Norman said. “I was in the neighborhood a lot when I was in high school, because they had a lot of awesome cultural festivals there.”

She and her husband (they have since divorced), looked at an array of properties. One place, a Craftsman house built in the 1920s, captivated Ms. Norman while she was sieving through the internet.

“I Googled it and sent a link to my Realtor and said, ‘Hey, can I see this house?” she recalled. “I fell for it online, and when I saw it in person, l was like, ‘This is my house.’”


Occupation: Farmer, food activist and host of the television series “Homegrown”

D. I. Why: “I was like, ‘I’m going to strip the molding all over the house.’ It took months just to do my bedroom using nontoxic stuff like the stuff that’s made from orange peels. Then I was like, ‘Let’s paint everything white.’ So much for all my ambition.”


What made it so were the high ceilings and oversized windows, the three fireplaces, the crown and chair molding, and the big, open rooms — plenty of space for her three sons, now young adults. The new roof and the updated electrical and plumbing systems added to the appeal.

It’s no big deal that the nails in the old oak floorboards in the living room sometimes pop up, requiring Ms. Norman to knock them back into place. She relishes the sense of history and continuity. “You can tell the house was built in stages,” she said, “because the floors in the newer parts are tongue and groove.”

Ms. Norman is also decorating in stages. She has hung the panel of Kuba cloth that she bought years ago from a vendor at a street festival. Also on display are shells from Jamaica, rocks from Greece and artwork by her children and one of her sisters.

But her attic bulges with the rugs and lamps and tables she has been collecting over the past decade or so and holding back until the moment is right. “I have boys, and when you have boys, you can’t do all your good things until they’re gone,” she said. “I tell them, ‘As soon as you move out, it’s going to be a new house.’”

To put it in horticultural terms, Ms. Norman’s philosophy of home décor tilts more toward perennials than annuals. “I don’t like buying new stuff,” she said. “I like to find stuff that’s already out there and still useful. It’s about finding value in old things. It’s a hodgepodge, but it’s cute.”

An engineering drafting table that Ms. Norman found on Craigslist, for example, was repurposed as the countertop for the kitchen island. The spiral-shaped coat rack near the front door was a vintage sale find. The table, chairs and rug in the dining room were sourced at an estate sale. A friend who was moving passed down the curio cabinet. The desk cabinet sits on a desk that belonged to Ms. Norman’s former husband.

Some while back, she spotted three steamer trunks sitting on a neighbor’s porch and made a successful offer. The trunks now store pieces of the quilt she is taking apart to reassemble (when she can find the time) and the essential oils she uses for the homemade skin-care and hair-care products she makes for herself and a few fortunate friends and relatives.

One of the two pullout sofas in the living room came from a friend; the other was a rare store purchase. Thanks to Ms. Norman’s mother, Raabia, both were recently refreshed with turquoise slipcovers.

“She said, ‘Your couches are looking raggedy. I got you something.’ She comes in and arranges things and rearranges them,” Ms. Norman said fondly.

This regard for the old and well used is elemental. Ms. Norman connects it to the land that is her livelihood and her love.

“It’s about tending to things,” she said. “The oak floorboards came from somebody’s forest. The bricks — they’re from the earth. It’s an extension of nature in a built environment.”

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