CHESHIRE – As a young man studying history and religion, John Casertano had no plans to join the family farming business.
But after spending time teaching English abroad, Casertano returned to the Cheshire farm and rediscovered his roots.
“I realized that was more the type of job I wanted,” Casertano said. “There is a connection with the natural world and the changing of the seasons. Time is marked by the seasons.
Casertano entered the family business growing and selling annuals and perennials in their greenhouses which straddle 80 acres along South Meriden Road and another 65 acres along the Wallingford border.
He also continued the family tradition of giving to the towns of Meriden and Cheshire. Last week, Casertano Greenhouse & Farms received the Spirit of Meriden award for its contribution to the beautification of the city. Each spring, the Casertanos donate the necessary flowers and soil to the planters downtown. They also contribute to the Meriden Farmers Market and donate to the annual YuleFest on Colony Street.
The Casertanos started with financial support 12 years ago and then began providing product support four years ago for the Downtown Flower Program and YuleFest, Councilman Michael Rohde said.
“John Casertano and his family have been loyal and generous supporters of Meriden,” Rohde said. “They are most worthy of the Spirit of Meriden award and model business support for the community.”
The Casertanos have a long history of giving back to their communities. Beginning in 1929, the family farm split up and Presco (Louie) Casertano developed his own vegetable and flower operation. At this time, Louie Casertano was supplying the New York, New Haven and Waterbury markets as a truck company.
His children started a successful farmers’ market in 1974 to sell their own produce, flowers, wreaths, ropes and Christmas trees. Nicholas Casertano, John’s father, studied horticulture at Michigan State University and he and his wife Inez adapted the farm to produce annuals and perennials to meet the changing times, while preserving the traditions that Louie Casertano had started.
“My family has always been very active in the community,” said John Casertano. “It all started with my grandfather who let the French cooks from the Cheshire Academy live in his house. My parents also participated in the donations of products and time.
Over the years, as more and more people added perennials and annuals to their landscaping, Casertano’s wholesale business and shipment of products to New England garden centers and major chains of stores and landscapers has grown exponentially. During the pandemic, it was one of the main hobbies of quarantined people and business boomed.
“The challenge of continuing operations and keeping people safe was tricky,” Casertano said. “We are lucky to be able to work outside, but we also had people working nearby. But growing has become a big pandemic pastime.
Casertano estimates the company saw revenue increase 12% from 2019 to 2021. There were some supply chain issues early on, which have since subsided, he said.
Part of the appeal of horticulture is the blend of science and art that satisfies hobbyists and inspires them to try new and different combinations. The planters in downtown Meriden are a clever display for the public.
After traveling the world, Casertano was drawn to the family business because of the people involved in “salt of the earth” and because it was a non-fierce, non-corporate environment. That’s not expected to change anytime soon, but Casertano said looking to the future, the company is likely to do more with online retail. He’s also working on a new decorative trend that breeds plants that can stay potted indoors and outdoors through different growing seasons.
Casertano also engages in educational projects introducing people to various parts of gardening through state and national grower associations.
“We want to inspire people to love gardening,” Casertano said. “We want to do what we can to make gardeners successful.”
City officials commended the company for its community involvement and contributions in a proclamation signed and read by Mayor Kevin Scarpati.
“Through their generosity and caring for residents and special events in our community, Meriden has benefited greatly,” the proclamation reads. “It is only fitting that they are the recipients of the October Spirit of Meriden award.”
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