BALLSTON LAKE – Mark Sacco figures he’s put in about 52,000 hours of work on Wm. H. Buckley Farm since he purchased the Ballston Lake property in 2013 — 100 hours a week, on average.
Nearly a decade into ownership of the 360-acre establishment, the 51-year-old shows no sign of slowing down. That’s a good thing, because his to-do list goes on. And on. And on.
“It’ll never end. If you finish the most monumental project, you’ve got five minutes to look at it and then get to the next one,” Sacco said.
He’s got plenty to show for his efforts. The farm, which hadn’t been in operation for years before Sacco took over, now has a butcher shop that sells fresh, grass-fed, all-natural beef, pork, chicken and turkey, along with farm-produced eggs, honey, fruits and vegetables. The store also stocks products from 58 New York state farms and small businesses, an inventory that includes everything from pickles to pizza dough. A 180-year-old dairy barn on the property serves as a wedding venue and two houses are rented out for short-term farm stays. Sacco also ran a cafe on-site for about five years but closed it a few years back after deciding it took too much time away from other initiatives.
A Niskayuna resident, Sacco was raised on his family’s farm in Madison County. He purchased the original Wm. H. Buckley Farm in Valley Falls, Rensselaer County, 19 years ago and began raising grass-fed beef there. When he bought the Ballston Lake property, formerly the Cappiello Farm, he brought the Buckley name with him.
Getting the present Buckley Farm up and running was a tough row to hoe.
“There hadn’t been much going on here in I don’t know how many years,” said Sacco, who noted that parts of the farm date to 1779. “It wasn’t ready to be used as a farm, so we just started working day and night for like six or eight months. We got some fencing up and some buildings built and roofs on barns and the water working again.”
[ngg src=”galleries” ids=”54″ display=”basic_imagebrowser”]Eight months after purchasing the farm, Sacco was able to move his livestock there.
The butcher shop opened in the summer of 2013. It started as “a little cashbox and two freezers,” Sacco recalled. Now the operation sells enough pork, beef, chicken and turkey to provide roughly 1,500 people with all the meat they would typically eat in a year. Sacco aspires to raise that number to 2,500.
“I drink coffee all day,” he said, pouring himself a steaming cup from a pot in the butcher shop on a recent afternoon. “My day is like 4 a.m. to 10 p.m.”
A typical day begins with feeding his three Maremma Sheepdogs — massive, long-haired, white livestock-guardian dogs that roam the pastures. Then it’s breakfast time for the livestock. Once they’re fed, there’s prep work to do in the butcher shop. Then, Sacco moves on to whatever else needs doing. Right now that’s pounding in fence posts. There are about five miles of fencing left to complete, he said.
Sacco doesn’t run the place all on his own. Farmhands are mostly family, including his parents and three children, ages 14, 16 and 19. There’s also a part-time cashier and ordering clerk, a part-time butcher and six 16-year-old assistant butchers who help on weekends.
Sacco said his wife, for the most part, is on board with his farming initiative. “But there were years when the kids were babies … when it was hard to see my vision,” he added with a grin.
Butcher Joe Amedore mentors the junior butchers, teaching them to produce the steaks and chops, bacon, hamburger, jerky, sausage and deli meat that fill the shop’s cases.
Raw dog food has become a big part of the business, Sacco noted. Freezer cases hold packages of ground chicken frames, marrow bones, organ meat, smoked chicken feet and ground beef, all sold to pet owners.
Turkeys are the top seller at the farm. The birds arrive as chicks in July and call the Buckley pastures home until November. Last year, Sacco said, he raised 600 for Thanksgiving and sold them all.
Livestock numbers vary over the course of each year, but annually the farm raises about 100 pigs, 60 cows, 5,000 chickens and 600 turkeys, many of which graze and forage in pastures with views of Ballston Lake and Vermont’s Green Mountains.
“We go a mile-and-a-half that way,” Sacco said, pointing south toward Burnt Hills. “I have fields as far as you can see, then down to the lake. And then [my property] goes over to Whites Beach Road. It’s good for grazing. I have a lot of grass. For this group, you need 130 acres of good grass,” he said, referring to his present herd of 68 beef cattle.
“You’re trying to put two-and-a-half to three pounds a day on these guys in the summertime. Otherwise, it doesn’t make sense financially.”
Over the past eight years, Sacco has been adding apple, peach, pear and plum trees to the property. There are 600 of them now, some planted in a pasture where chickens and turkeys forage.
“These trees do really well with the chickens around them all the time,” he said, surveying some fledgling apple trees, observing that they need to be pruned.
“I’ll get to it,” he assured, adding the project to his mental to-do list.
COVID put a damper on the wedding and farm-stay portion of his business, but he said it’s now starting to bounce back. Conversely, the pandemic increased traffic to the butcher shop. Some of the customers who came in to avoid crowded supermarkets or find items that were sold-out at other venues have now become regulars, which has helped his bottom line, Sacco said.
When asked how the farm fares financially, Sacco replied, “It’s a long-term investment,” then went on to detail plans to erect a secondhand 30-by-80-foot steel barn to house his farm equipment. Nearby is a vintage post-and-beam barn he plans to turn into a second wedding venue. It needs its cupola rebuilt. On the to-do list: acquiring lifts and scaffolding for that job.
Navigating a rutted farm road in mud-caked muck boots, he pointed out the pig barn that sits about a half-mile away from the rest of the farm buildings. The structure, built in 2015, is handsome, faced in locally milled wood that’s been stained dark brown.
“We built this, three men. Two of them were 65 or older. We just drew this up on graph paper and built it,” Sacco explained with pride.
He said the challenge of keeping the farm viable is a gratifying one, as is the assurance that it will retain its pastoral beauty long after he’s gone. He’s signed away development rights to the land.
“This could have easily been 700 or 800 houses, I guess. You see the views,” he said, taking in the late-afternoon shimmer of Ballston Lake and beyond it, the Green Mountains, dusky blue in the distance. “I have a mile of commercial frontage on Route 50. It’s all preserved.”
Sacco’s goal is to simplify the farm’s operations so it can someday survive without him, but at present he has no plans to retire.
“I’m lucky,” he said, standing among fledgling fruit trees, turkeys and chickens pecking at his feet. “I work hard, but I’m lucky to get to walk out here and see this, and I had a big hand in making it look like this.”
Reach freelance writer Kelly de la Rocha at [email protected]
Wm. H. Buckley Farm Butcher Shop and Farm Store
WHERE: 946 Saratoga Road, Ballston Lake
HOURS: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Friday through Sunday
FOR MORE INFO:www.buckleyfarm.com