Steve’ grandparents, John and Marguerite Eggert started farming on Thompson Road in East Syracuse. They built a home and farm and began raising their 13 sons and daughters. But war came and the farm was taken to build Hancock Air Base. It was to be filled with barracks, hangars and airstrips to accommodate the needs of the Air Force to train and house airmen to defend the world from the spread of Nazism.
John moved his family to the present site of the farm on Route 298 in Collamer, a small hamlet along an old Indian trail connecting Oneida Lake with Onondaga Lake. The farm was once the site of an Iroquois Longhouse. As a boy, Steve remembers coming across arrow heads in the plowed fields. The boundaries of the farm still have remnants of boundary markers dating back to the Revolutionary War, when farmland was given to soldiers as payment for their service during the fight for our Independence.
The farm, then known as, simply, Eggert Farms, has a varied history. When founded by John and Marguerite it had a number of enterprises, all designed to keep the family engaged in the farm and to put food on the table. Vegetable fields were cultivated and the harvest sold on a roadside stand. The girls took charge of washing and bunching, as well as sales. It was a good experience that taught them the value of hard work. The boys worked the fields, but also tended the cows and chickens. It was the quintessential farm many of us dream about!
As the family grew up new enterprises were added to the farm. Some of the boys added a John Deere dealership to the farm. Farmers from all around counted on the dealership for their tractors and other implements, as well as service to the equipment that the Eggert Brothers became so expert in. Unfortunately as the number of farms in the area began to dwindle, the dealership was closed.
Other brothers, of which there were many!, started a lumber yard. The shop which now houses the equipment repair machinery, was a thriving lumber yard. This was helpful as the brothers began a long history of home building!
As the tractor dealership and lumber yard were ongoing, so was an active farm. By this time the farm had transformed into a dairy. Cows were raised in the pastures and housed in the cow barn that is still on the farm today. A milk parlor, added onto the barn allowed the milk cans to be refrigerated while waiting for pick up.
Eventually the brothers began to leave the farm for other work, leaving just two brothers behind and their sons to carry on the work. Steve spent his childhood on the farm, learning to work with the cows, raising the crops for feed and learning the skills and values of agriculture. As young as grade school age, Steve could be seen driving tractors pulling wagons of hay up and down the road as the hay was baled and brought back to to the farm and stored for winter feed.
But the milk parlor was soon outdated. Milk was no longer stored in milk cans and delivered to the processors this way. Large refrigerated tanks were required, a costly expense. To accommodate the change, the farm morphed again. This time the farm moved to heifer replacements and hay. Cows were sold to other farmers to milk. Hay was baled and sold to other dairy farms. Huge hay trucks were loaded and sent to hay auctions across New York and Pennsylvania. Lesser quality hay went to mushroom growers in Pennsylvania. They turned the hay into compost to use in the mushroom tunnels for raising the spores that became mushrooms.
Steve went to Morrisville College and then Cornell and earned a degree in Ag Engineering. All four years of college, Steve was home on the weekends, tending cows, raising and harvesting the crops and maintaining his place on the farm. Upon graduation Steve added his own enterprise to the farm – corn, small grains and beans. He invested heavily in equipment and infrastructure for his business. Combines, planters, plows, trucks and grain bins now filled the farmyard. The business grew beyond the acreage owned by the family. Steve rented 1200 acres to accommodate his growing business. At times the fields he rented stretched as far as Chittenango, Lakeport, Pompey and Fabius.
But it got increasingly harder to find ground to plant. At one time Steve grew crops on Burdick Street, which was then sold for development. To look at the property now, with its dozens and dozens of houses, you would never know it was once fertile farm fields. The same with the ground that now houses the Medical Center in Fayetteville. The hill was once home to acres of Steve’s crops of field corn, soybeans and wheat.
As farmland became more scarce, Steve was forced to seek out land farther and farther from the farm. That’s when he landed acreage in Pompey and Fabius. A long way to travel with farm equipment, but the farm he rented had a barn where he could store his equipment rather than driving it back and forth to the farm in Collamer every day. This was a workable solution for awhile.
But eventually traffic became so thick on the roads that it became increasingly more difficult to run the roads with tractors and combines. Not only was traffic too heavy, but motorists patience and common sense seemed to disappear!
The final blow to Steve’s business came in the 90’s. Local mills for his products were rapidly closing. The owners were growing older and no one in their family wanted to carry on the business. So the mills were closing, while a couple were sold to conglomerates whose main goal was profit, even at the expense of local farmers. But in 1992, the bottom dropped out. That was a year that summer forgot to come! We were still getting frosts as late as the Fourth of July in the hills of Fabius. None of the corn matured, soybeans barely produced and small grains were a disaster. That year, we put everything into the crops, as we did every Spring, but we harvested nothing! The year was a complete loss and we teetered on bankruptcy.
The writing was on wall. We lost the mills for our products, we lost our savings and had no income. We needed to find a new way.
That’s when the idea of Cobblestone Creek Farm began to form. Diane was raised on a vegetable farm and brought her experience to Eggert Farms. We began to raise vegetables and sold them at the Syracuse Regional Market. The work was different from what Steve was used to but he jumped in with both feet! He still grew corn and beans, but began to taper the acreage to more manageable levels. Ultimately, he gave up the corn business and rented the infrastructure to another farmer.
After a few years at the Regional Market, it was clear that we needed to work at building the vegetable business to be more successful if we were going to make this our living. We decided the CSA model, combined with farmers markets might be the answer. It gave us direct contact with our customers, which we loved and the CSA gave us a reliable source of revenue. We changed the farm name to Cobblestone Creek Farm to differentiate it from the corn business, added a Facebook page to help get the word out about our farm and changed farmers markets.
We now go to the Hamilton Farmers Market in Madison County every Saturday from May through October. We’ve developed good relationships with the community and feel a strong connection with our customers there. We started the CSA in 2009, with just 10 members so that we could learn the system before we dove in too deep. It wasn’t long into that first season that we knew we loved the concept. We loved getting to know our customers and, in fact, we view many of our CSA members as good friends.
We have lots of ideas on the direction the farm will go in next. We do have Kory to think about. He loves the farm and wants this to be his lifelong career. We’re excited that we have someone that wants to carry on the farm after us and Kory’s thoughts and idea on the future of the farm are key to some of the decisions we will be making as we move forward.
But one thing is certain. We believe in the value of farming – as a way of life, as a means of bringing fresh healthy food to our community, and as a key component of environmental stewardship. Cobblestone Creek Farm will remain a diversified vegetable farm, offering food directly to our customers at the farm and at farmers markets. It’s what we do and what we love!