Atlanta-based ‘Farmer J’ of ‘Homegrown’ shares lessons in urban gardening

Credit: Eclipse Creative

Credit: Eclipse Creative

Jamila Norman believes delicious seasonal vegetables can be achieved by anyone interested in home gardening or farming.

The host of Magnolia Network TV’s “Homegrown,” Norman owns Patchwork Farms in Atlanta’s West End neighborhood. The 12-acre organic farm serves as home base for Norman’s many agricultural, philanthropic and media endeavors. She has a particular passion for establishing sustainable agriculture in urban environments, and for improving the culinary lives of communities of color.

Norman — or “Farmer J” as she is known on the show — spoke with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution about her farm, making the TV show, and how Atlantans can up their game when it comes to home farming and gardening.

Q: What’s your favorite part of what you do?

A: You’ve gotta love the whole process of farming, because all of it contributes to the whole. Some things can be almost a year in planning for a crop. ... At the farm, we have 83 different crops throughout the year — a whole lot of Excel spreadsheets.

Q: Did you create those crop planning systems yourself?

A: I’m an engineer, so I set up a lot of these things myself. I read gardening books and farming books for years — I always wanted to do this, but I didn’t think it would be a career. ... I also looked to other farmers, scouring the internet to learn about people, reaching out to people, and I’ve been a member of Georgia Organics. ... Going to conferences and reaching out to people there has been a huge help.

Credit: Eclipse Creative

Credit: Eclipse Creative

Q: Are there any crops you’ve been trying to grow and just can’t seem to get to work?

A: There are some I’ve been chasing. For instance, this year I finally have amazing leeks, right? ... Years ago, I grew the most amazing leeks I’d ever had in my life. I’ve been chasing that leek high! And, finally, here in my third location, I figured it out and was like, I got it!

Q: What surprised you most about putting the show (”Homegrown”) together?

A: Never ever is this something I thought I would be doing. And, I’m also surprised by how comfortable I’ve become doing it.

But, it’s an opportunity and a platform for me to share what I know with community. It’s really good in that respect. ... It’s definitely a juggling act, with me still running the farm. But, it’s definitely a joyful process.

Q: What’s one of the biggest mistakes people make when starting a home garden or farm?

A: A common rookie mistake is trying to put it in the shade. Everything needs sun, at least 6 hours for vegetables and herbs. A second mistake is buying the cheapest soil. Quality soil should be your biggest investment as a home farmer or gardener. And, the third rookie mistake is trying to do too much at the onset, trying to do too much, getting overwhelmed.

Q: Any advice for people who don’t have their own yard, but are interested in farming or gardening?

A: I always encourage people to find a local community garden. There are hundreds within the city. A lot of parks have community gardens, so ask local neighborhood associations, or even your own complex, and there are churches that have garden programs, as well. Those aren’t utilized as much as the organizers would like them to be, so people should adopt a bed and grow one for a family. In fact, the very first thing I did, farming-wise, was starting a community garden at West End Park.

And, if you’ve got an outside porch, patio, deck that gets a lot of sun, you can do a lot with some pots. Doesn’t have to be a green space. If you have a foot and a half of soil, there’s a lot of opportunity, if you can be nonconventional. There are some apartments that are putting gardens on their rooftops, so I’m seeing more interest from developers, as an amenity to the community.

Episodes of “Homegrown” are available for streaming on HBO Max and Discovery+.

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