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Farewell, Farmer Steve

February 15, 2023

The past month has been a bit of a blur. Three weeks ago, we paid a deposit to LB Fencing to install a 3,400’ deer fence around the farm. The following week, we launched a fundraiser—our first ever—to pay for the fence. Since then, we’ve been taking donations, answering questions about taking donations, meeting with county officials, and generally trying to not drop the ball. All this on top of our normal winter tasks.
But staying focused has been hard. Because three weeks ago, Steve Cecchini, our field manager from 2016-2021, and friend for much longer than that, went into hospice. The news was both expected and unexpected—Steve had been battling cancer since 2019. Members of our crew visited him multiple times in the following days, and Dan and I were with him the day before he died. When he passed on February 5, his brother Rich, daughter Danielle, and son David were at his side.

Since then, I’ve been disseminating the news through various channels, but it seems the more ways there are to communicate, the more easily messages can fall between the cracks…or sound off-key. Texting works for close friends. Social media is quick and easy for large groups, but not everyone is on it. Email is almost as quick and targets the entire farm community, but not everyone in the community knew Steve. This newsletter is my best vehicle for communicating weighty news, but writing takes time. So if you’re a social media regular who’s heard this all before, or a new CSA member caught off-guard by the email where I announced Steve’s death as blandly as one might announce rain, or a friend surprised and saddened to only be getting the news now, hopefully you understand why.

Remembering Steve Cecchini
October 23, 1960 — February 5, 2023

Dan and I met Steve in 2009, when he stumbled into the position of head grower at Sophia Garden, at the Dominican sisters’ convent, in Amityville. Dan and I had worked at Sophia Garden years ago, and Dan continued to work with the convent’s maintenance staff (he still does). Our house is located around the block, and on Saturday evenings in the summer of ‘09, I would pack my screaming newborn and a picnic dinner into a stroller and walk to the convent. Steve would join me, Dan, and Baby Ada as we ate dinner in the gazebo overlooking the Sophia Garden fields. Months into his first farming gig, Steve was grateful to have other farmers to ask questions and bounce ideas off of. I was grateful to have someone else hold the screaming baby. Dan was grateful for dinner. None of us knew where the friendship that began in that gazebo would lead.

Steve worked another full season at Sophia Garden before joining us at Restoration Farm in 2011 as an almost full-time volunteer. Our son was born that spring, so I don’t have many recollections from that season, but I do know there was a lot of action in the fields, and that Steve was part of it. And I know Dan was very grateful for the help.

In 2012, Steve went on to launch the first of several farms at the Sisters of St. Joseph campus in Brentwood. He worked with special needs adults to produce food for a CSA program, and he paved the way for other farmers to also break ground at the campus. But similar to his experience at Sophia Garden, working for an institution ran counter to Steve’s independent grain. So in 2015, he returned to Restoration Farm.
From 2015 to 2021, Steve poured his heart and soul into Restoration Farm—from seeding, to field prep, to planting, to cultivating, to harvest, to even bathroom cleaning. To Steve, all work was noble, and no work was beneath him. Nevertheless, it was his skill as a mechanic and mentor that made him stand apart. Steve never met a machine he couldn’t troubleshoot, or a person he wasn’t willing to teach. He was patient and determined. He took great pride in his work, and he wanted others to feel that pride, too. He and I butted heads plenty of times, but always about the route, never about the destination. In later years, if it seemed we were headed for a standoff, one of us would yield and declare: Fine, do it your way, but don’t f--- it up. We had that much trust in each other.

His first battle with cancer came in 2019, but he was back in 2020, keeping a stiff upper lip about his condition, and putting the rest of us to shame about any complaints we might have lodged about heat, mosquitoes, etc. That fall, when I decided a Halloween play was what we needed to beat the pandemic blues, Steve—who loved kids—built the stage and took a leading role. He stayed on through the spring of 2021, but the return of cancer prevented him from completing the season. We saw much less of him after that. But even when he couldn’t work in the fields, Steve was always a phone call away. Whether it was how to set the finger weeders, which fish emulsion to use on transplants, or the ideal spacing for strawberries, he was eager to contribute.

I could write forever and still not do justice to Steve and his legacy. He touched so many people, both directly and indirectly, as a brother, father, political activist, and farmer. It’s still a shock to think I’ll never see him around the farm again—everywhere I look, there are signs of his presence, of his life. He was one of the most amazing people I’ve ever known, and I will miss him dearly.

Share Your Memories of Steve

If you’d like to share your own memories of Steve, you can email them to me and I will post them on a permanent memorial page. Also, Steve loved to hang out and have a good time. Restoration Farm will hold a party in his memory at the farm on April 16, 12-4pm. Anyone who knew Steve and would like to trip down memory lane is welcome to join us!

Circling back to the deer fence, Dan and I have spent many hours the past week clearing saplings, vines, and other brush in preparation. At a glance, it’s a big job that calls for a big crew, but a closer inspection reveals the nuance involved. Far from a simple demolition, this job is more akin to tree pruning. For now, the two of us are doing pretty well with a chainsaw, a set of hedge trimmers, a lopper, and a long-handled tool called “the weed whipper.” Occasionally, Dan uses the tractor to uproot a sapling. The methodical, mostly quiet work is a welcome opportunity to quiet my mind and reflect on Steve’s passing. It’s also the first time in many years I’ve worked alone with Dan in the fields. I used to jokingly refer to Steve as my “work husband,” because for several years, he and I spent more daylight hours together than Dan and I did. But now that Steve is gone, I’m grateful to join forces with Dan on a project neither of us is happy about, but which both of us recognize as necessary. This project hasn’t been easy or fun, but not every project is. Steve, though he had many strong opinions, never complained, and if there’s one way we can honor his memory, it’s by getting this job done, together, without complaint.

In the words of Lulu McCue, one of Steve’s biggest fans, Onward.

Thanks for reading,

P.S. We are still welcoming donations for the fence. Click here to read more about the project, and to make a donation.


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