EDITOR’S NOTE: This is one of a series of Saturday profiles of area residents and their stories. To suggest a profile, contact features editor Burton Cole at firstname.lastname@example.org or metro editor Marly Kosinski at email@example.com
CANFIELD — Anyone involved in gardening in Mahoning County has or will likely run across Eric Barrett, Ohio State University Extension’s local area leader and educator.
His main goal is helping everyone — from the large farm operator to the small city gardener — by providing the knowledge and information to be successful.
“Gardening brings a lot of comfort for people, especially now” during the pandemic, Barrett said.
He grew up on a farm in Marietta. He was also heavily involved in 4-H and showed livestock and garden projects at the Washington County Fair, which is held on Labor Day weekend. He said that’s a fair date he “never got away from” when he moved to Canfield.
He graduated from Warren Local High School (near Marietta) in 1992.
“From there I went to further my education at OSU and never left,” he said.
At OSU, he started in ag communications, then moved into animal science. He ended up earning a master’s degree in ag economics and began his career working with OSU Extension.
Barrett said his father Jim Barrett served as an extension agent, which gave him the desire to follow that path as well. He became familiar with Mahoning County after a relative moved to Poland, but it was a little later that the door opened for him to move further north.
Barrett married in 2009 and in 2011 his wife, Leslie Barrett, was offered a job with WFMJ-TV 21. For the first six months, Barrett commuted from Marietta to Canfield, until he landed a job at the OSU Extension office in Canfield.
“When I first came to the Canfield office, I was an ag educator,” Barrett said. “I worked mostly with farmers and with volunteer gardeners.”
He still handles that work today, but is now the leader for Mahoning, Stark, Portage, and Columbiana counties. The work is still the same — providing assistance to famers and gardeners through four major program areas that include family and consumer sciences, 4-H youth development, community development, and agriculture and natural resources. All the program areas use Ohio State University with the latest science in the ag area.
Barrett said he stays involved in the farm life and occasionally heads down to Marietta to help his mom, Mona Barrett, with the family farm. His father died in 1999, but the family still runs the farm.
At his Canfield home, Barrett is passing his knowledge on to his oldest daughter Clara, who is 5-1/2 years old.
“Growing up on a farm I am used to gardening,” he said. “So I enjoy gardening at home with Clara.”
He will have some additional help down the road when Stella, his 6-month old daughter, is ready to get her hands dirty.
From having fun in the home garden, to getting his hands dirty at the Canfield office, Barrett continues to work with some amazing species of plants and flowers, which includes a lot of his favorites: hydrangea trees and bushes. He planted a lot of them around the office that bloom all summer. And he is more than happy to share his knowledge of gardening with anyone, to make their experience in the garden a better one.
Barrett said with the pandemic, a lot more people are working with gardens, and farms are being seen as an important asset for the county. The Mahoning County Commissioners said they wanted to help local farms by using some of the county’s CARES Act fund allocation.
“We have a Buy Local program going to urge people to support local farms,” he said.
His office is also helping farms through the CARES Act with personal protective equipment, signage and are assisting with how to open safely to the public.
At age 46, Barrett is very happy with where his life’s work has taken him. He truly enjoys what he does and knows he is helping a lot of people who want to turn the soil and get into gardening or farming.
For 2021 and beyond, Barrett said there are a lot of changes coming.
“I think agriculture is changing a lot,” he said. “Everyone is concerned about nutrient and soil management, and what will be happening in the future with trade. Farms will need a good management program.”