Amongst the sprawling acres of fields and greenhouses at E. Cecchi Farms, there’s more than just produce and plants rooting in, but also a long-standing family tradition of agriculture. Here, embedded in the soil is a rich tradition of timeless work and diligent farming practices, one that has been passed down through five generations.
It began in 1946, when Erminio Cecchi left his father’s farm in Agawam, purchasing a forty acre plot to start his own business in Feeding Hills. Under the shade of a large maple tree, Erminio sold his yield and thus began a legacy of providing the community with fresh, local produce.
“My grandfather started farming this land over fifty years ago, my father and mother worked here, as do I and my two brothers,” says Michael Cecchi who oversees the fields. “As business grew our stand was built in the 1950s and then a glass greenhouse, where our retail display is now.”
The Cecchi brothers - David, Bobby and Michael - work in unison with their father Robert, Erminio’s son, to run the farm. For all three, some of their first memories were working and playing on this farm, a connection that remains strong today. While their farm roles vary, each brings a particular expertise to specialized areas of production. The oldest brother, David, has an artistic gift, and attended the Rhode Island School of Design; he owns his own graphic design firm, lending his strengths to create advertisements, signage and marketing initiatives for the farm. Bobby, who oversees the greenhouses and retail operation, went to the Stockbridge School of Agriculture at UMASS Amherst then DuPage Horticultural School in Illinois. Michael, the youngest, attended Cornell University with a focused study in field and vegetable crops. The system seems to work beautifully as each brother contributes individual prowess dependent on his degree.
This is no small operation. Their motto, “everything you’d grow if you had forty acres” refers to not only the original forty acres purchased by Erminio, but also the wide variety of produce and plants available at any given time. Currently, the wide, glass-paneled greenhouse has warmed itself to welcome a kaleidoscope of floral color. Perennials, annuals, hanging baskets and bedding plants are each meticulously organized, all arranged by type and color. While the purpose of their techniques is meant to streamline the planting process, arduous details - like the symmetry of each plant tag - clearly communicate their commitment to perfection.
Outside the greenhouse, each new season brings succulent fruits and vegetables into their farm stand. Michael says they’ll start with asparagus, strawberries and lettuce, along with greenhouse tomatoes and cukes. As warm weather pushes through, their farm stand comes alive. They grow almost everything - beets, carrots, summer squash, beans, peppers, eggplant, melons, watermelons, winter squash, cabbage, kale and raspberries (to name a few). While the now 80 acres they farm isn’t large enough to accommodate orchard fruits, they personally select favorites like local peaches, plums, nectarines and apples from nearby Southwick and towns just over the Connecticut border. To create a one-stop shopping experience, the stand is also supplied with local honey, maple syrup, baked goods from Balboni’s Bakery, cheese from the Granville Country Store and a variety of other local treats. Bobby closely monitors the beautifully curated collection of produce; he relays customer feedback to Michael, who is willing to accommodate specific crop requests from year to year.
The farm operates using an IPM, Integrated Pest Management, program. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, IPM is an environmentally friendly, common sense approach to controlling pests. The effective, ecologically sensitive approach includes regular monitoring, weekly inspections, reporting and the evaluation of practices. The process includes managing insects, plant pathogens and weeds. Michael refers to the process as “good growing,” with efforts focused in crop rotation, field scouting, and identifying both resistant and biological varieties. He says most of their crops hardly ever get sprayed and they emphasize a sustainable farming practice.
At a time when blurry marketing labels define food - organic, naturally grown, non-GMO, raised without antibiotics – E. Cecchi Farms prefers just one in their farm stand: our own. All the plants - annuals, perennials, herbs, hanging baskets and plants - are seeded onsite or propagated by cuttings. Vegetable transplants are also all done by hand. If it doesn’t say “our own” it’s likely been sourced from a neighboring producer (excluding items like citrus and bananas).
Michael, who is taking over his father’s role in the field, says, “He taught me most of what I know. I’ve learned things from school and specialized meetings, but a lot of what’s working here is from what my dad has done - and worked - and also his dad.”
What’s worked well for them is collaborating with local wholesalers. More than ever, the demand for local produce is high, making partnerships with grocers like Big Y World Class Market and Geissler’s Supermarket great resources for dispersing produce. Michael says they are at their warehouses five or six times a week, picking products in the morning and having them available for in store retail purchase - sometimes - that same day Also utilized on local menus, their produce can be tasted at Lattitude Restaurant (West Springfield), Partners Restaurant (Agawam), Bruno’s Pizzeria (Springfield) and Red Rose Pizzeria (Springfield).
The Cecchi family takes a lot of pride in what they do and are thankful for the community that has supported them all these years. Their customers - from Agawam, Feeding Hills, Southwick, Suffield, West Springfield and beyond - come every year for picked-that-day produce. Michael says everyone has their own story and he enjoys seeing them each season. E. Cecchi Farms expresses their thanks by supporting a number of community initiatives, like the Native Asparagus Supper in early June to benefit the Captain Charles Leonard House in Agawam. They donate upwards of 80 pounds of fresh-picked asparagus to accompany the main dish of this annual dinner, with proceeds used for the preservation of the local landmark (Tickets and details are available by calling the Captain Charles Leonard House at 413-786-9421 or at E. Cecchi Farms, 1131 Springfield Street, Feeding Hills, from 9am-6pm daily). Later in the season they also host customer appreciation events and a Benefit Tractor Show with all makes, models and vintages on display. E. Cecchi Farms is also a proud member of CISA, participates in the Massachusetts Farm to School Project, is a member of the Massachusetts Farm Bureau and is certified by the USDA for Good Agricultural Practices & Good Handling Practices.
Soon, the farm stand will flourish with freshly picked produce and plants representative of hard work and a wonderful family tradition - one that will soon be passed to the next generation.
“The farm has always made sense to me,” says Michael. “I just like being outside on the tractor. It’s nice to see the progression of the fields from season to season. We’re here every day and take pride in what we do - I’ve always just wanted to be on the farm.”
E. Cecchi farms