Carl Barna is giving a tour of the impromptu tomato garden sprouting on the veranda overlooking Homeland Center’s verdant Catherine Elizabeth Meikle Courtyard.
“There’s Bush Goliath,” he says, rattling off the varieties growing in pots. “Then there’s Celebrity. There’s a Roma. There’s one called a Patio tomato.”
Where Carl Barna goes, there’s a project going on. He has spent a lifetime building decks and porches, fixing up homes, cooking, sewing and upholstering, and growing vegetable gardens, especially those featuring his favorite – spicy-hot jalapeno peppers. At Homeland, he pitches in wherever there’s a need and, with his outgoing nature, strikes up conversations with everyone.
Homeland’s little vegetable garden started late this summer, when Carl acquired the tomato plants, plus jalapeno and red bell peppers now growing in a stone planter, from obliging home store managers, happy to see their end-of-season plants going to Homeland Center.
He has thoughts about expanding the garden in future seasons. He could build raised planters for vegetables, and maybe grow fresh herbs for the Homeland kitchens.
Carl is a Harrisburg native, growing up a middle son in a family of four girls and five boys. He played baseball and football. He camped and roamed the woods above his home. By age 13 or so, he was working, carting concrete around building sites for the father of television producer and Harrisburg native Carmen Finestra.
He always knew he didn’t want to work in an office. He graduated from Bishop McDevitt High School in 1972, just as Tropical Storm Agnes was devastating Harrisburg, so he found work clearing mud and debris from flooded stores. Then, Carl found work as a Penn Central Railroad brakeman. It was hazardous work, jumping on cars being separated and classified for the next leg of their journeys. If they were boxcars, he would climb to the roof. At the Enola railyard, his job was to tie the handbrakes to stop each car before they ran out of track. Once a group was secured, another batch of cars might come over the hump, to be stopped by the cars already tied down.
After four years with the railroad, a car crash left Carl with limited use of his legs, but he stayed busy. He worked in real estate, fixing up houses and even erecting a modular home for his mother. Today, he maintains his powerful build by attending Homeland’s exercise classes. Every morning, he does 150 sit-ups and 1,500 reps of a twist with a cane threaded behind his shoulders.
All his life, Carl has learned by doing and by picking the brains of others. He learned to cook from the TV chefs he would watch with his mother. There were the little tricks that made cooking easier, such as using a mustard bottle to squeeze out precise drops of olive oil. He came to appreciate the results of cooking with cast-iron pans, producing broiled pork chops that came out as well as grilled.
Carl brings a cheery attitude to every activity and meal at Homeland, perhaps coaxing a laugh and a little chair dance from someone in an exercise class, or helping a skilled-care resident fill out a bingo card. When he goes to bingo, everyone leaves with a prize. It’s all part of his philosophy to make someone’s day, every day.
“I have fun with everybody,” he says.