By Anna Ferraro
“Pay attention to details, the small ones. The big ones take care of themselves, the little ones will just grab you,” says Paul Barnett, in regards to his gardening exploits. Taking a short break from picking sweet corn one warm afternoon, he took a moment to share about his love for his hobby – which is really more than a hobby …
A former Cargill employee, Barnett is passionate about working in his 12,000 square feet of greenhouses, and the surrounding gardens on his property. After his retirement last summer, he works full-time on his gardens, saying, “I like growing.” His five children and eight grandchildren like it, too, and together, led by Barnett, the family maintains an impressive gardening operation.
Years ago, they ran a nursery, growing and selling flowers and vegetables, and participating in farmers markets. But with changes in Barnett’s work and schedule, that all had to be put on hold for a while. Now, they’re back in full swing. Tomatoes, sweet corn, green beans, cabbage, cauliflower, peppers, jalapenos and more all are thriving in Barnett’s greenhouse this summer, ready to be picked and taken off to various farmer’s markets. Barnett says, “This has been a really good year so far. Had everything in early, and we are now getting ready to plant the fall crops.”
In addition to his greenhouses and gardens, Barnett partners with a friend in Beardstown to plant a 40-acre melon and pumpkin patch. Barnett says, “This is full-time, and I love it.”
It’s not all easy, though. Barnett shared that two of his biggest challenges that he deals with in his work are disease and insect problems, explaining, “Plants in greenhouses are more susceptible to these issues than those grown out of doors.” He’s constantly trying to stay one step ahead, saying, “I’m always keeping an eye on the plants.”
Every Thursday night during the growing season, Barnett heads over to the Illinois State Fairgrounds in Springfield and sets up his produce stand from 4-7 p.m. Throughout the evening, he mingles with the friendly crowds that are visiting, picnicking, buying produce and tasting wine on the grounds. He shares, “I like the people that we market with, everybody takes care of each other and watches out. I’ve made a lot of friends and customers.” In addition to marketing at the fairgrounds, Barnett also travels to markets in Alton and Jerseyville – a bit of a drive, but all for the love of his gardens.
But that’s all for now, Barnett’s afternoon break is over, so it’s back to the sweet corn patch. There’s more work to do, and gardens don’t just care for themselves …