E. Cecchi Farms in Agawam harvests awards for tomatoes

MassLive, September 17, 2017, by Cynthia Simison

Michael Cecchi is the third generation of his family to make his living from the rich farmland of the Connecticut River valley.

His grandparents, Erminio and Anna Cecchi, bought a 30-acre farm in Agawam’s Feeding Hills in 1946 and began the business by selling produce on tables they set up in their front yard. Over the years, Anna Cecchi, who died in 2006 at the age of 86, became known for her favorite tomato, basil and olive oil salad that was served each summer at the family’s annual Corn Fest.

Today, the farm is more than 50 acres, and the Cecchis also lease additional acreage to raise their crops. The family’s farmstand at 1131 Springfield St., overseen by his brother, Robert, thrives each year from Easter to October, and their vegetables can also be found in Big Y Foods markets and cooked into culinary creations by chefs for the tables of several area restaurants.

This time of year, Michael Cecchi’s hours are precious as his crops are being harvested almost non-stop. Beans. Peppers. Squash. Eggplant. Carrots. Beets. Corn (yes, it’s still coming). He works 10- to 12-hour days, so catching a few minutes of Cecchi’s time can be a challenge. One recent morning, though, he was more than happy to talk tomatoes.

It may not have been the best of seasons for that luscious fruit of summer, but the Cecchi family has nonetheless grown and marketed a myriad of varieties. Heirlooms. Traditionals. Grapes. Cherries. You name it, and Cecchi Farms has probably grown it.

“The weather’s been a challenge this year, with the rain,” says Michael Cecchi. “We’ve seen lots of blight, and the plants are not at their peak performance.” Wet soil, he cautions, can lead to fungus and mildew.

Staggered plantings that began back in the spring, spread over five acres, has kept the Cecchis’ tomato harvest bountiful, though. “We do a few plantings to get us through the year. We’re waiting now for the last planting to ripen,” he explains.

The Cecchis also harvested some awards in the state’s 33rd annual tomato contest held in Boston last month, and visitors to the Eastern States Exposition over the next two weeks will likely catch Cecchi vegetables featured in the native produce displays where they’ve been exhibitors for decades.

In the state contest, the Cecchis’ Amana tomato, an orange beefsteak variety, earned fourth place in the heirloom category. One of their Brandywines, another heirloom, placed seventh in the heaviest category, weighing in at 1.710 pounds, and they placed eighth in the slicing category with a Biltmore.

The Amana is among the heirloom tomatoes that are increasing in popularity, says Cecchi. He encourages customers and home gardeners alike to try some of the different varieties. “The heirlooms bring different flavors and are becoming more and more popular,” he explains. (Note to the gardeners: “My best advice is you’ve got to NOT baby your (tomato plants), but you can’t plant and forget them either.”)

E. Cecchi Farms raises as many as 25 heirloom varieties, along with 10 or 12 traditional varieties and lots of grape and cherry tomatoes, which he says are among his favorites. “They’re sweet and juicy with just a little crunch,” Cecchi says.

He predicts their tomatoes will keep coming to market into mid-October, or until the first frost, the arrival of which no one can predict.

For the D’Amour family of Big Y Foods, sharing the harvest of area farmers like the Cecchis is all about the sense of community that’s been the cornerstone of their business, according to Claire D’Amour Daley. Last year, as an example, Big Y purchased 4.8 million pounds of native produce from regional farmers, and they expect this year’s supply to be even more significant, she said.

“Our produce team cannot say enough good things about the Cecchis and their fruits and vegetables,” said D’Amour Daley. “They get resounding bouquets of good words. They’re fantastic, a great family business and a good farm to work with. They deliver straight to some of our stores. They are among our best growers.”

With stores numbering more than 70 now, it’s not an easy task for Big Y to manage having so many local farms among their suppliers, she noted. “But, this is our community, whether it be our customers or our farmers. It may be more difficult to manage than having just one supplier for cucumbers, for example, but we feel it’s important to invest in our community. Our customers appreciate being able to purchase native fruits and vegetables.”

Like other family farms up and down the valley, the Cecchis are relying on the next generation to carry on the business, and Michael Cecchi says one of his nephews, Joseph Cecchi, has already expressed an interest to move the farm forward. Erminio and Anna Cecchi would surely be proud.