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Featured Farmer: Jimmy Williams

Fashion Designer Turns to Urban Farming

This Southern California entrepreneur made a lifelong passion for gardening his career after designing clothes for more than 20 years.

By: Tracey Chang of Second Act| 05/23/2011

Every day at 5 a.m., Jimmy Williams wakes up with anticipation. He says he can’t wait to see what sprouted overnight in his Southern California nursery.

“Growing food might be the most spiritual thing you can do,” says the 56-year-old Williams. “I am fascinated by the germination of a seed.”

Though he grew up tending vegetables with his grandmother and 11 siblings in Southampton, N.Y., Williams did not make gardening a career until later in life. His first profession was in the fashion world, where he designed sportswear for Calvin Klein and Cacharel and also had his own label, Jimmy Williams Stitches. After moving to the West Coast in 1984, Williams designed for Cole of California, a well-known swimwear company.

A decade ago, Williams gave up fashion to become an urban farmer. He now grows and sells edible plants, such as blueberry bushes and collard green trees, at his Hayground Organic nursery in the Silverlake area of Los Angeles. He enjoys creating backyard gardens for homeowners and selling his seedlings and saplings at farmers markets in Hollywood and Santa Monica.

He recently compiled his gardening tips and family recipes in a book, From Seed to Skillet: A Guide to Growing, Tending, Harvesting, and Cooking Up Fresh, Healthy Food to Share with People You Love, co-authored with garden writer Susan Heeger.

“I’ve got the best job in the world,” he says.

In an interview with, Williams talks about how his second career happened organically and the joy of tending his business with help from his 25-year-old son, Logan.

Getting started: “I didn’t decide [to make gardening a career]. It kind of evolved on its own in spite of me. It just happened. I did a rooftop garden in Manhattan and a friend of mine said, ‘Jimmy, I think you ought to do this for a living.’ Then I did another roof, then another garden for a neighbor, and I did a garden for another friend, and the word got around. There wasn’t some great creative plan.”

Inspired by: “My Grandma Eloise. She never had to ask anybody for food; she grew her own, and she enjoyed every minute of it. It was kind of the backyard that was the communal place for everything we did: All our food came from our yard. We grew kale, broccoli, corn, potatoes, sweet potatoes, peppers, tomatoes, lettuce, everything.”

Fashion vs. gardening: “I certainly like [gardening] a lot more than fashion. Fashion was a fancy when I was younger, seeing your name in the fashion magazines and seeing your name on a label. That was the big thing about it, but you kinda get over that after a while. But growing plants and building edible gardens is a lot more rewarding to me.”

Philosophy: “People always say to me, ‘Jimmy, you’re always happy.’ I say, ‘If you wake up, why should you be unhappy?’ You have another chance to correct any mistake you made. I feel good about waking up just about every day.”

Words of advice: “Make sure you like it, first of all. Just don’t do it because somebody else said you should do it. Find something you like and try it. You’ve got nothing to lose.”

Biggest reward: “The biggest joy out of all o