WATERFORD — For more than a century, the Secchiaroli family has owned and operated a pig farm in southeastern Connecticut.
“Jonathan’s family has been farming for over 100 years,” Hazel Secchiaroli said of her husband. “He’s a fourth-generation pig farmer.”
With most farmers markets canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the family has needed to change the way they operate, Secchiaroli said.
“We had to set up an online store and have curbside pickup for our meat products,” she said. “So, that’s what we’ve been doing for the last year. Offering mostly different kind of pork cuts, hams, chops, sausages, bacon.”
With restrictions on social gatherings, Secchiaroli said the pig roast portion of their business has taken a hit.
“We kind of had to build up more of the retail cuts,” she said.
In response, Secchiaroli said the farm started a Community Supported Agriculture program, which sees participants buy a share of the farm’s harvest and pick up products periodically.
While these initiatives are typically used on produce farms, and help introduce consumers to different types of products, she said the farm adapted the program to give their patrons a diversity of pork cuts.
“Maybe ones that people wouldn’t typically buy on their own,” she said. “It just helps introduce people to the different types of ways you can cook pork. It’s not just all about bacon. Although, bacon is our most popular item.”
Secchiaroli Farm’s CSA, she said, lets participants get either 5, 10 or 20 pounds of meat a month. She noted the family also bought chickens last year, so the farm could start producing eggs.
Secchiaroli said the program went well in the early part of last year, especially when grocery stores were limiting the quantity of products consumers could buy. She said her farm did not have those types of limits, adding they just needed to invest in more freezer space.
Business really spiked last summer, Secchiraoli said, and then leveled off in recent months. She said the farm has supporters who have stayed with them before and during the pandemic.
“Levels are still lower than what we had pre-COVID,” she said.
Secchiaroli said her husband’s great grandfather, Alesandro, emigrated from Italy in 1904. In 1911, he purchased the Miner Lane land where the farm still operates. While it began as a dairy farm, she said, the 1980s saw the family switch their focus to pigs.
“He took over the farm in the 2000s — from his father and his older brothers,” she said.
Secchiaroli said her husband took the business in the direction of direct-to-consumer, and focused on selling pigs for pig roasts. She said the family then also started attending the Waterford Farmers Market.
“That’s where we are right now,” she said. “We raise pigs from farrow to finish — meaning we have a breeding herd and we have piglets that are born that we sell as seeder pigs ... for people that want to raise their own.”
Secchiaroli said her family works collaboratively together on the farm, with her husband managing operations and her running marketing and social media. She said her husband works year round to keep the farm running smoothly.
Together, with their children Alessandro, Giulio and Amelia, it’s a true family farm.
One problem facing small farmers, Secchiaroli said, is getting people to buy locally sourced food as a way of life, not as a novelty.
“To think about getting different types of products — meat, vegetables, fruit — from the different farmers all year round,” she said.
Secchiaroli said one solution is getting people used to that way of life at a young age. She referenced a program at the Waterford Farmers Market, where it offered free vegetables for children.
“You came and, each week, they had a different sample,” said Secchiaroli, who was a co-market master at Waterford Farmers Market. “It was a way for parents to bring children to see faces of the farmer and where their fruits and vegetables and meat comes from. Also, to be able to try different things risk free.”
Supporting local farms and buying local starts with families and getting kids used to doing it early on, Secchiaroli said. The farm and the family will continue to carry on the farming legacy, she said.
“Basically, having something that’s sustainable for the future,” she said. “We’re always going to need food. We’re always going to have to either raise food or grow food.”