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On Island Profile: Kate Norfleet

Kate Norfleet and her chickens.Many people across the territory know Kate Norfleet for her years with such organizations as the St. Thomas/St. John Chamber of Commerce and United Way of the Virgin Islands and her lengthy career as a graphic artist. But when she’s not at her computer, designing advertisements and more, she’s out on her St. John property feeding the chickens and tending to her garden.

“I’m getting three to five eggs a day,” Norfleet said, opening the gate to let her eight “girls” out to roam the half-acre plus property.

She also has three ducks, plus three cats and a garden that would be the envy of anyone who wanted to grow a variety of limes, tomatoes that taste like they should, pomegranates, pineapples, Surinam cherries, bay trees with leaves for cooking, baby bok choy, and a kitchen garden filled with herbs growing in pots right outside her door.

“I love to cook,” she said.

There are challenges associated with having what amounts to a farmette on St. John. The chickens eat a lot, and she’s negotiating with store owners to give her their leftover produce.

“I spoil my chickens. They get fresh cabbage in the morning,” she said.

The deer that come to visit eat “everything.” She’s fenced the entire property but that doesn’t always deter them from finding their way in.

When she bought the property in 2007, what is now the garden that surrounds the house was a blank slate. She hired folks to build stone walls, built some herself using glass bottles interspersed with concrete, put in a patio, installed a water supply system using in part a sink found at the Dumpster, and built fences for the fowl using found metal gates to provide access.

Reuse is one of the keys to Norfleet’s success. Every scrap of food that doesn’t go to feed the chickens goes into compost, old newspapers served as fill, and anything else that can be reused is.

Norfleet moved to St. Thomas in 1980. She was working for New Castle, Del., county in its arts in the parks program after graduating with a bachelor’s degree in fine arts from the University of Delaware at Newark. The federal grant that funded the program was about the end, so the Richmond, Va., native moved to St. Thomas sight unseen because a friend had a friend who taught school there.

“With 16 boxes of art supplies,” she said.

Her first job was working as a waitress and doing other jobs at Wet Willy’s Bar in Charlotte Amalie. At the time it was owned by Les Anderson, now a St. John artist of some renown.

She soon got a job at RCS Enterprises, a St. Thomas advertising company owned by Bob Skeoch. When it went out of business three years after Norfleet took the job, she opened Katy Dids. She took a year off to go sailing in 1986, but operated that graphic design business until 1998. In 1989, she and Keryn Bryan joined forces as Katy Dids, dissolving that business partnership in 1998.

That year, Norfleet opened Kate N Design, the company she still operates. When she moved to her house in 2008, she moved the office to the house outside Coral Bay.

“I love working at home. I can water the plants when the need arises. And the commute is very short,” she said.

Now 59, the death of several friends and family from cancer and other diseases has convinced her to live in the moment.

“Your priorities change as you get older,” she said.

She’s content to head off island for a month every year to travel with her sister to far-flung locations, to swim every day at one of St. John’s beaches and to make plans for building a single-level house on her property so she can navigate easily when the stairs in her house become a challenge.

“This is my home,” she said.

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