Fenicchia Farms — Flowers and Veggies
The waning presence of farmers and farmland in Chili is, in reflection of my earlier years, regrettable. When the land is husbanded for subsistence (essentially, food on your table), hands, and many of them, are needed to maintain whatever crops are sown. And from my experiences, these hands tend to be young. As we lose our “active” open places, we lose incredible employment opportunities for the youth of Chili. Working on a farm, unlike a department store or fast food chain, is a strong educational experience. Farm work is inseparable from many academic fields, including biology (understanding the growth cycles of plants), chemistry (when to fertilize, lowering ph with pine chips), mechanics/engineering (how to fix that stubborn Farmall), and human anatomy (pulling weeds and pitch forking begets larger muscles). In addition, when you work for a farmer, you learn that your food comes from a field, not the grocery store.
I was a hired hand at Fenicchia Farms all months of the year from the age of twelve. In the early spring, when the snow drifts were abundant and the mercury was entrenched below 32 Fahrenheit, I would be in one of three long, half moon-shaped plastic greenhouses with Louie’s son, Anthony. We filled an inexhaustible supply of pots with an inexhaustible supply of partially frozen soil (or so it seemed). Until the start of summer, we were caretakers of the petunias, pansies, and every other flowering annual or perennial you could possibly stick in your garden. The greenhouses were a haven of exploding color during the seasons Mother Nature slept. After Memorial Day, my hands would encounter a dramatic transition from soft potting soil to the well worn, wooden handle of a hoe. Acres of corn, carrots, melons, and tomatoes needed to be liberated from their weedy foes. Aside from an absurdly distinct farmers tan, field work benefits the laborer with fresh air, delectable produce, and hours in the outdoors. I also enjoyed the company of several vocal goats, and a couple barn cats that loved to weave between your legs as you tried to move hanging baskets. Although I have been an employee for Sandy and Louie for about eight years, they have worked the land since 1977, and I felt a formal interview was necessary to understand their thirty-two year relationship with Place.
“I think it is nice to be able to work out of the home” Sandy asserted. “You know, work where you live…more or less to live off the land. It is a satisfying feeling”.
“ I like [farming]” Louie exclaimed. “That’s why I basically did it.” Sandy quickly added, “It is in his blood. He has done it all of his life. Even though they lived in the nineteenth ward [in Rochester], they went out to [his Uncle’s] farm in Webster…and they would sell from a stand out there.”
“My grandfather was a gardener on East Avenue…and my father was a gardener” Louie replied. “He took care of yard maintenance for companies, so I used to do that too. [I was in the landscape] business since I was eighteen…I stopped doing that because I did not want to take care of other people’s places when I could buy a place here, and do just as good growing vegetables.”
And if you drive by his produce fields on Humphrey road (at the intersection of Stryker road), the vivacious plants with large, copious fruits reflects the agrarian presence in his blood. However, there is a hitch. As Sandy described it, “You can never leave your business; whereas, if you work in an office, you work nine to five, and you’re done. Here…it’s constant. Lou would get up a five am, and he is working to night time without a break. In that regard, you would think that working at home would be less stressful, but it is not. You can’t get away.”
Farm work is stressful. You are dependent on the weather, testy equipment, and on the finicky palate of your customer. Of course, it doesn’t help when people don’t know you exist. According to Sandy, “Agriculture is part of our heritage. I just believe that we should work very hard to keep an agricultural aspect in the town…a lot of people do not recognize that”. “Chili is two parts” Louie added. “You got the rural South and it is all developed on the other side, the North. People there probably don’t even know this is Chili.”
This ignorance hurts our local farmers, especially the Fenicchias. They depend on local consumers to purchase the goods they create. Stop by the farmers market in Chili Paul Plaza some Saturday morning, and at the Rochester City market, as well as the new Wheatland farmer’s market; you will see them behind tables groaning under the weight of flowers and vegetables grown right here in Chili. In addition, Louie is a ‘grower-provider’ for St. John Fisher, as well as the Brockport school district. When the Buffalo Bills are in town for training camp, the produce Louie cultivates is quickly consumed by burley linebackers, defensive giants, and probably some of the coaching staff (however, there is no correlation between the quality of Fenicchia produce, and the post season performance of our heart break home team). The Fenicchias are deeply rooted in our community; yet, how many people are aware of the local growers? “Probably not a lot of them,” Sandy exclaimed. “A lot of them are oblivious to it. A lot of people tend to just see the area where they live, but it probably should be made more aware. I think this is a very important part of Chili.”
Although a seemingly large portion of our populace is unaware of the rows of thriving cucumbers and watermelons “down here”, one can remediate this by visiting a farmers market, or meeting the farmer in his natural element (from experience, farmers are the most congenial individuals you will meet). In the presence of a farmer on his land, it is easy to see that their relationship with Place is more profound than that of a city dweller or suburbanite. Sandy was not hesitant to describe her affinity: “I love the land. It is more than [a commodity] to me. I love to look out and not see cement, and houses…I feel very peaceful. I just love to be on the land and see all the greenery. [But] it is a commodity also, to stay here and survive.”
As Louie and Sandy have expressed, Place is a multi-faceted perspective. Place is farmland, Place is a way of life, Place is something that defines you as much as you define it. And, from what I have witnessed, when your perspective of place broadens, you become increasingly intimate with it.
As Sandy exclaimed, “I will be here until I die…this is where I will be”.
What do they grow?
Annuals / Perennials
Corn, Tomatoes, Cucumbers, Summer squash, Winter squash, Zucchini, Herbs, Radishes, Turnips, Cantaloupe, Watermelon, Carrots, Beets, Brussels Sprouts, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Peppers, Pumpkins, Beans, Lettuce, Swiss Chard and Collard Greens
Where you will find the Fenicchias
Chili Center Market –Saturday Mornings
Wheatland Market — Wednesday Evenings
Rochester City Market — During the Spring for flowers
The Fenicchias in the news…
Brockport Central School District Newsletter
Brockport Central School District News January/February 2010