Sean Barker is the farm entrepreneur at Part & Parcel Farm. On three acres about 20 minutes east of downtown Raleigh, Sean’s annual harvest includes salad greens, root vegetables, asparagus, heirloom tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, squash, cucumbers, and an assortment of berries. Here, he shares more about his roots and inspiration.
Photo by Christer Berg
Within Sean’s diverse background is a stint in the hospitality industry, which led him to pursue the agricultural leg of the business. He started growing for market in his Raleigh front yard six years ago and, after serving as Principal Farmer at Raleigh City Farm for two years, graduated onto a leased three-acre farm late last year. But the interest is far deeper-seeded. “When I was a child, my grandmother always had a very large garden from which she fed her family,” Sean says. “She canned, froze, pickled, made jellies and preserves, and saved her own seed. I admired that self-sufficiency and was always fascinated by the abundance she was able to produce.”
Like all member farm entrepreneurs, Part & Parcel operates biologically and sustainably. To control weeds in the sandy clay loam he works in, Sean uses stale seed-bedding, flame weeding, mulch, and hand weeding. The farm’s 3-acre size suits drip irrigation. Sean takes a similar approach to pest management as other member farmers, too: “I encourage a bio-diverse population of natural pest predators,” he says, combined with “row cover, crop rotation, and variety selection.” It’s about working with the environment rather than trying to control it.
Sean characterizes two of his favorite crops as offbeat. He loves to plant beets, even though “they aren’t the most profitable thing to grow. I feel like I’ve really accomplished something when I pull a perfectly sized beet with good greens. I wash it off, stare at the color and shape, and just go, ‘Yeah.’ … I like to eat them, but also they are just so beautiful.”
He’s also a proponent of purple hull peas. “I haven’t figured out how to make them economically viable on a farm scale, but there’s nothing better in the world than a big mess of hand-shelled purple hull peas.”
As his farm’s name suggests, for Sean, growing is an essential part of being. He admits that during the most grueling parts of the season, he wonders why he’s chosen this path. “But in the off season, I pine for it,” he says. “It’s a compulsion. The thought of not doing it gives me serious anxiety.”
It’s also satisfying – actually. “Knowing that people literally eat what I do,” is what makes it worth it, he says. “My hard work yields something that can very directly give people a sense of enjoyment and positively impact their well-being. I get a strange sense of satisfaction out of delivering food to a restaurant and then going back that evening and paying to have it served to me on a plate.”