Perry native James Farmer makes his living as a multimedia lifestyle mogul, but he makes his home in rural Georgia.
This is the second story in our Hometown Hero series, which shines a light on rural Georgians whose work
Helps their rural communities, making a difference that reaches beyond their own lives,
Encourages others to remain in, return to and invest in their own rural communities,
Reflects positively on their rural communities and on life throughout rural Georgia, and is
Ongoing, revealing a true commitment to and hope for the future of their communities.
Each of the heroes we highlight has made and continues to make a choice to call rural Georgia home. This criterion is as noteworthy as it is obvious, since it is, after all, the most fundamental, most significant and—in today’s world—arguably the most admirable of the criteria our heroes hold in common. This qualification makes all the difference.
James Farmer has built a multi-faceted lifestyle firm that not only bears his name, but also his personality. At just 39, the Houston County native and his brand have become symbols of classic Southern style and spirit. With the notoriety he’s earned not only as a designer, but also as a sought-after speaker and best-selling author, Farmer could conceivably conduct his business from any location on earth. But this middle Georgia boy always knew he would establish his empire at home.
As a matter of little-known fact, Farmer has been choosing his hometown as his professional HQ since he was a pre-teen. His first venture was a one-man, curb-appeal-improvement operation called Leaf it to Me. Beautifying his neighbors’ lawns and porches led naturally to other decorating gigs, and by the time Farmer finished his degree in horticulture and art history at Auburn University, he had successfully run numerous profitable enterprises and assembled an enviable network of associates and admirers in the process.
Still, there was no question where the young entrepreneur would set up shop. When asked today, “Why Perry, of all places,” his answer is simple and straightforward.
“Well, it’s my hometown,” Farmer asserts, politely but unapologetically. “But I chose to come back here selfishly because I knew where I would bank. I knew who my attorney would be. That makes Perry an easy place for me to conduct business because those things are off my plate. I can focus on being a designer.”
Apparently there is something to Farmer’s philosophy, as playing to his strengths has allowed him to publish 10 books, make frequent appearances on the TODAY Show, act as an editor for Southern Living magazine and travel extensively for speaking engagements all while piloting a prolific design team with projects throughout the US. Did we mention he is a social media sensation?
All that hustle leaves a body in need of a reasonable amount of rest, however, and that is another reason Farmer calls Houston County home.
“I just don’t know that I could truly relax anywhere else,” he says.
Maggie Schuyler calls Farmer a “dear friend,” and she will tell you without hesitation that he would never call himself a hero for bringing his business back home. Instead, she says, her friend shies away from the spotlight, happy just to be himself in the midst of the people and place he cherishes most.
“James absolutely loves Perry,” she says. “He would never classify himself as a ‘hero,’ but he definitely is one.”
Schuyler should know; not only are she and Farmer friends, but she is also president and CEO of the Perry Area Chamber of Commerce. In that role, she interacts with him and a growing list of other Perry business people daily. She recalls when Farmer purchased the building in downtown Perry that now houses his design studio, storefront and event space. That was about a decade ago, when Schuyler says downtown Perry was “on the cusp” of becoming the charming, cheerful destination it is today. Farmer was one of the first to see the area’s potential before elected officials’ revitalization efforts began in earnest in 2017.
That work has meant tremendous growth for the downtown business district and the Perry area as a whole. It’s growth that has brought jobs, revenue and local pride to the place formerly known solely, albeit affectionately, as the home of the Georgia state fair. Still, Schuyler and Farmer take pride in Perry remaining as rural as it ever has been, with all the benefits that descriptor denotes.
In fact, if Farmer himself could talk to every bright, young, rural Georgian pondering his or her future plans, he would tell them not to scratch the state’s small towns and crossroads communities off their list of potential landing places.
“In a small town, your dollar goes further,” Farmer points out. “So, you can have a nicer house here than it Atlanta, for example. Your church may be smaller here, but you can be friends with people from other generations. In a bigger place, you’re going to hang out with other people who are all your own age.”
Details like this, Farmer says, help make rural life rich and rewarding. He values the relationships he has with older people and all he’s learned from them—experiences he says he probably would not have had in a more populated place—and is hopeful as he sees older, rural friends adapting to changing times and technologies.
And while his place of residence sets him apart from his fellow, famous lifestyle influencers, in Farmer’s opinion, that’s another plus to rural life.
“I always like to stand out in some unique way,” he explains. “I don’t need a flashy hat or bright tie to do that. I choose to live in a small town. That makes me unique.”
As he imagines the future of Perry and other rural places like it, Farmer sees much to inspire not only hope, but also pride. While Atlanta absorbs much of the state’s literal and metaphorical energy, he advises against underestimating the state’s small towns and rural communities.
“Don’t overlook rural Georgia,” Farmer wants the world to know. “We’re actually the flavor of the state.”
We, at Georgia’s Rural Center, could not agree more.
Know of an inspiring hometown hero who deserves a moment in the spotlight? Email email@example.com with the details.
Photo credits from top:
Emily Followill (James Farmer portrait)
Jeff Herr (all design shots)