In our highly interconnected and interdependent lives, self-reliance may seem remote, especially when resources and space are limited. But Atlanta-based urban farmer Jamila Norman is teaching everyday families how to start a backyard farm even while living in the city. The HBO Max series “Homegrown” follows her as she educates aspiring urban farmers through the dos, don’ts and amazing possibilities of DIY home food gardens. Jamila Norman joined “City Lights” host Lois Reitzes via Zoom to share more about her show and the backyard farming strategies it reveals.
A farmer with natural ease in front of the camera:
“It wasn’t awkward, and it’s work that I’m already doing. So I wasn’t outside of my element in the subject matter. And then, you know, the camera people, they’re just such nice people. Everybody’s just so nice at this production company, so it was just a very comfortable set,” said Norman. “I had done some camera work before, but I mean, it was like videos – I hope nobody finds – that I did with friends on YouTube, just talking about food and healthy eating and all that stuff. And that was actually some of the footage that they found, so they were like, ‘Oh, okay. She’s okay being in front of a camera.’”
“They’re just sort of capturing the natural process of me working with the homeowners, talking to them, figuring out what it is they want, and then also just being in the moment. So it’s not like I’m doing a script, and I have to embody a different character or anything like that. I just get to be myself.”
The joys of eating seasonally, as well as tips and on “companion planting:”
“You plant a lot of onions, garlic, so those types of alliums, you will plant those with all your brassicas – your kale, your collards, your cabbages, because those type of plants, the alliums, help to propel the type of bugs. that like to come and eat on your leafy greens and such. And so, pest control is one relationship. [Another is] needing each other for support, with the ‘trellis-ing’ with the beans and the corn, with the tomatoes and basil,” Norman explained. “Apparently, extending basil with tomatoes makes the tomatoes taste better, develop a much more robust and lovely flavor, and then they also are not competing. Tomatoes grow up and wild, and the basils are short and bushy so they can be together, and they just sort of help each other, and they’re not competing for the same nutrients or environmental requirements.”
“Growing over the years and really understanding… the seasonality of stuff, you’re like, ‘Oh, this makes sense why these two things are found together.’ You know what I mean? Like, one of my favorite soups is potato and leek soup. And it’s like potatoes and leeks are coming out of the ground at the same time, and people are like, ‘Okay, I guess we’re going to put those two together,’” Norman said. “It’s an amazing combination… Homegrown is so much better than store-bought, I mean, just flavor-wise. You could really taste the flavor. So when that time comes, and we’re eating potato leek, I mean, I will cook a big old pot and we will eat that for breakfast, lunch, and dinner because it’s just so good.”
A rich family history of food and farming:
“My mom talked about so much of her upbringing and her childhood in Jamaica. She was raised by her grandmother for about 13 years of her life, before she moved to New York and lived with her mom, and my great-grandparents were farmers, and they grew everything. My great-grandfather raised bulls, my great-grandmother… made coconut oil, which was her product that she mainly took to market with all the other vegetables and stuff. So my mom just was always talking about this rich history,” Norman recounted. “On and off, for a total of two years, we lived in Trinidad, and so, my dad’s native home. And so growing up in Trinidad, I mean, he’s just surrounded by food and surrounded by just freshness and lushness. And so I just was always just drawn to it, loved it, and I knew just in my heart of hearts, I would steward a garden of my own once I had the space.”
On Jamila Norman’s local organization, Patchwork City Farms:
“Patchwork City Farms is a farm I started here in Southwest Atlanta in the neighborhood of the West End in 2010. I lived in the West End, I was raising my family here, and I saw a need for fresh produce and just access to that. , and I just decided to start a farm. 14 years later, Patchwork is now five minutes away in Oakland City, and it’s a property that I have had the pleasure and the good fortune of being able to purchase,” said Norman. “There are lots of amazing things to come for this site. I sell at local farmer’s markets. I do online sales where people can come and pick up at the farm, and I do some restaurant sales as well. And throughout its whole existence, Patchwork City Farms has been growing food that is fresh, organically grown and healthy, and culturally relevant for the community here in Southwest Atlanta and the greater Atlanta area.”
Jamila Norman stars in “Homegrown,” now streaming on HBO Max. More information on her local work with Patchwork City Farms can be found at https://www.patchworkcityfarms.com/.