Turkeys Play Key Role on Diverse NY Farm

11/23/2013 7:00 AM
By Paul Post New York Correspondent

BALLSTON LAKE, N.Y. — Mark Sacco sees his turkeys' impending doom as one of the keys to his farm’s long-term survival.

For the birds, that’s life’s harshest reality.

For the public, at Thanksgiving time, it’s a much-anticipated seasonal treat.

“You know where it comes from, you know that it’s fresh,” said Sacco, co-owner of the William H. Buckley Farm in Saratoga County.

Sacco, 42, an attorney and former U.S. Marine Corps captain, purchased the 288-acre site last January with his wife, Elizabeth. The land, once slated for large-scale residential development, is the former Cappiello Dairy, whose hilltop vista offers stunning views east to Vermont. From Route 50, a busy state highway, the property slopes down to the west side of deep, narrow Ballston Lake, which was formed eons ago by a receding glacier.

The Saccos raise grass-fed beef, hogs and free-range chickens that supply both eggs and meat. However, at this time of year, the farm’s more than 200 bronze breasted gobblers are the main focus of attention.

Poults arrive in July and are fed a turkey starter before getting raised with a corn-based, all-natural feed.

“We’re going to grow our own feed next year,” said Mark Sacco, a nonstop bundle of energy. “That’s our next step in the building process.”

The farm, which hadn’t been used for quite some time, was in considerable disrepair when the Saccos bought it. Now, new roofs and siding are everywhere, and Sacco just built a turkey processing facility.

Some birds go to markets, such as Saratoga Healthy Living, which specializes in organic and natural foods.

Individuals may also get on a “turkey list” by contacting the farm and letting the Saccos know what size bird they want for Thanksgiving.

The couple’s fresh turkeys sell for $3.89 per pound, considerably more than what customers pay for in a chain grocery store. But Sacco said there’s no comparison.

“If you buy one of those birds, who knows how long it’s been frozen or where it comes from,” he said.

Raised in central New York, Mark Sacco spent considerable time on his grandfather’s 500-acre farm while growing up. He has no formal agricultural training. Everything he’s learned and done is the result of hard-won, hands-on experience.

Previously, the Saccos had a smaller farm called Buckley’s in Valley Falls, Washington County, about 40 miles to the east. Last year, he heard about the new location and jumped at the opportunity to acquire it.

“I was looking for more land,” he said. “We had run out at the other farm.”

So the couple packed up all the animals, kept the Buckley’s brand name, and moved everything to Saratoga County.

Mark Sacco readily admits that his military training has proved invaluable to making the venture work.

“This is about as close as anything to what I was used to in the Marine Corps,” he said. “It’s hard gritty work, fast-paced, full of constant changes. It never stops, 24/7. You can’t just pick up and leave.”

Each animal has a different role, maximizing every acre of agricultural productivity.

“Chickens eat bugs, keep the flies down and help spread manure,” he said. “Hogs turn the soil. Land can only stay farmland if you can make the farm survive. That’s why we have different species here. Each one is better suited to a different part of the property. You have to use all the land.”

In the service, he was used to working 100 hours per week. When he got out and began practicing law, he felt like he needed something to fill his “spare” time. That’s one reason Sacco wanted to stay active in agriculture. Plus, he loves the challenge and he and Elizabeth can rest easy, assured that their three children have a healthy food source.

“We feed our family with this farm,” he said.

Looking ahead, he plans to convert an old homestead on the property into a bed-and-breakfast type establishment, giving guests an opportunity to stay at a working farm and even pitch in with the chores if they want to.

In an area fraught with challenges such as rising energy prices and high taxes, Sacco’s “can-do” attitude is preserving the agricultural landscape and giving consumers a well-rounded selection of locally-raised products.

“You’ve got to be an optimist to be a farmer,” he said.

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