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Black Creek Farm: An Evolving Family Adventure

By Stefan Yablonski

Heather DelConte started Black Creek Farm with her husband Scott in 2007 so their kids would have exposure to agriculture and farm life. She says the farm has allowed her kids to understand the value of hard work.

Scott and Heather DelConte wanted to expose their children to farm life.

“We started Black Creek Farms as a small family farm in 2007 when we purchased nearly 100 acres and a homestead in Volney,” she said. “It was previously owned by the Talamo family. Our goal was to run a multi-purpose farm that would offer our children exposure to agriculture and farm life, something Scott and I had always hoped to make a reality.”

They began with a small poultry operation and a few pigs. As their children grew, so did the farm.

“We quickly expanded into beef and sheep, raising high-quality, classic-framed registered Hereford beef cattle and heritage sheep breeds,” the former president of Oswego City School District’s board of education.

For several years, they participated in a conservation effort breeding CVM/Romeldales, one of the rarest sheep breeds in the US.

“We enjoy the small frame Hereford cattle because they are efficient grazers, were easy for our children to handle when they were young and attracted buyers from across the Northeast,” she explained. “Our biggest market for our sheep and cattle was selling young, registered breeding stock. In addition to the livestock, however, we also started a roadside stand, selling pumpkins in season and honey.”

Her son, Joe, started an apiary to improve pollination in the family’s pumpkins, she said, adding, “We love having honey as a byproduct of that, in addition to increased pumpkin yields.”

Over the years, they have developed very sustainable practices that have served to improve the natural resources on the farm.

For example, they utilize rotational grazing, silvopasturing and manure management systems to improve the once nutrient-depleted soil on the farm.

They also allowed their children’s interests to open up new agricultural adventures.

“When the girls were interested in fiber crafts, for example, they purchased two alpacas that we enjoyed so much our oldest daughter, Danielle, bought Joe a llama a few years later!” she said. “As the kids have shown interest, we’ve dabbled meaningfully in swine, poultry, dairy, camelids, beef, fiber sheep, meat sheep, milking goats and meat goats — all of these endeavors have supplied our family with unending stories to tell and all have been completely jam-packed with opportunities for our family to learn and grow together.”

The farm has allowed the kids to understand the value of hard work, she added.

“As a family, we share all farm work. The kids, Scott and I start our days before sunrise doing animal chores and, even amidst sports, school and work commitments; understand that our days don’t end until all farm responsibilities have been completed,” she said.

In 2018, when Scott DelConte was elected to the Supreme Court, he had to leave the Black Creek partnership.

“Scott is still very involved with the labor around the farm and the older kids come home some weekends to also help on bigger projects. But he can no longer be involved in the business end of things — he is basically free labor!” she quipped.

“We don’t have any employees. Our farm has been a family affair and as kids have headed to college, so has our workforce. In response, we have systematically downsized the livestock breeding for now, overwintering only a handful of commercial beef cows, but have immediate plans to expand the apiary,” she said. “We are in a holding pattern for the time being while the kids pursue their advanced educations. But the future of the farm and the direction we take as kids grow up and out will ultimately be a family decision.”

The kids have had the opportunity to participate with Oswego County 4-H and at the Oswego County Fair and “all of us have developed a passion for promoting agriculture in schools and in public settings,” she said.

Daughter Nicole tending to some of the farm’s animals.

Several years back, Nicole DelConte, now a junior at Cornell studying agriculture in society, started a beef donation program to provide the local food pantries, and therefore local families, with quality, farm-raised USDA beef —a commodity that is not often donated.

She started by just raising one dairy steer every 18 months for the program. With her brother willing to help, she expanded it to include a brood cow to supply calves. More recently, through a grant she received while at Cornell, she has expanded it further to include several local youth raising calves donated by local dairy farms for the purpose of meat donation.

“We’ve had good years and bad years,” Heather said. “One year, we literally had carp swimming in our pumpkin patch because we had such a rainy early summer! We lost all of our seedlings and had zero pumpkins to sell.”

Over the past 15-plus years, the family has spent the majority of its weekends together fencing, weaning and halter-breaking calves, shearing ewes, building cattle shelters, planting pumpkins and harvesting honey.

“Basically tending to the never-ending to-do list that inevitably exists on every farm, no matter how big or small. Incidentally, our dogs have had to also share the kitchen with orphaned lambs and brooding chicks,” she laughed.

No matter the challenge, the group effort has always made it manageable and “beyond enjoyable.”

“Farming through Oswego winters is especially arduous, as anyone can imagine, but springs come with new lambs and calves, chicks and hope of a productive season. The blessing of the lifestyle far outweighs the challenges. And that is why we do it,” she said.