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Kirksway FarmKirksway FarmWhen you move to Lansing and you ask around to find out who can do some work around your property the answer is likely to be, 'Call Bill Kirk.'  Kirk is the owner of Kirksway Farm, which specializes in landscaping, excavating, septic installation and repair, and fencing.  And just about anything else you may need done.  "I tell people I'll do whatever they can talk me into," Kirk laughs.  "I do my best to do everything I can for them, and do it at a fair price.  I think the majority of the time I succeed."

Kirk started out as a dairy farmer.  He grew up on a Groton farm, and worked on farms through his college years before starting his own dairy farm on Cobb Street  in Groton in 1978.  A year later an 800 acre Lansing farm went up for sale.  A cash cropper bought most of the acreage.  Kirk bought the barn and five acres, and moved the farm and his family to Lansing, also renting a few hundred acres to grow corn and hay.  He's been on the corner of Auburn and Buck Roads ever since.

1988 brought a big change in his business when he nearly lost the farm.  "Everybody says how great Reagan was, but to farmers he was not great," Kirk laments.  "He's the one that put all of the small farms out of business when they called in all our loans.  Carter was the farmer's friend -- he'd stand in the driveway and hand you money.  Reagan came over and wanted it back just as fast.  Of course nobody could pay it back that fast.  So I sold the stock and paid back our money."

With the cows gone he was left with the building and some equipment.  After some research he began putting in lawns for a local builder.  That kept him busy for just over two year.  Then he expanded.

And as time has passed Kirk has adapted.  He used to be the top selling mulch and topsoil provider, but now he says everyone is selling it.  Even so he provides about 500 truckloads to homeowners per year.  "It keeps my little truck running pretty steadily," he says.  "We've been kind of pushed out of the lawn business because there is so much rental equipment available now that it pushes you up into heavier stuff.  So now we do more excavating.  That takes in septic repairs and septic installations.  We're known for drainage work, and we're doing a lot of that."

Bill Kirk

He and his crew fix footer drains and the walls outside of a house a few times a year when homeowners get leaky basements.  And when a realtor sells a house they have to take fuel tanks out of the ground.  Kirk works with Buck Engineering, a certified environmental lab in Cortland.  They do the testing, and Kirk provides the labor.

"Our part of it is to do the digging, remove the tank, dispose of the tank, and then do the restoration landscaping," he says.  "The last one we did we took out all the bushes in front of a highly landscaped house, pulled the tank out, sealed the wall, then brought in some fill, topsoil and mulch, and put the plants back so it looked like nobody was there."

The fastest growing part of his business is fencing, and he is hoping to grow that facet of the business even more.  "The demand for that has gotten so high," he says.  "Everybody wants a fence for kids or dogs, and swimming pools.  The code for pools is ever-changing, so we have to run down to the code office to find out what they want done -- before you give the client a price, hopefully!"

Kirk says that there is always somebody who isn't happy with you, but he has only had a handful of problems with clients in 20 years.  He tries to do something extra on every single job to keep customers happy.  "We were working on a little retaining wall on a driveway a couple of months ago," he recalls.  "We topped the driveway with some stone.  The owner had a 25 foot tall dead tree on the corner of the driveway.  It wasn't a huge tree so I was able to cut it down and remove the stump.  That was that guy's extra."

As a result he says he has had few of the problems other contractors have with getting paid.  "This is a good town," he says.  "Most people are making pretty decent wages, so most of the time we don't have a problem.  We try to do everything right up front.  We give a good estimate, try to do it as clearly as possible.  I like the KISS system -- 'Keep It Simple.'   I think we've done pretty well with that.  I've done my best."

Kirk and his wife Jean have been married for 32 years, and raised a son and a daughter in Lansing, both of whom live nearby.  "Lansing is very good," he says.  "We have a very good school system here even though we don't like the cost of it.  They did an excellent job with both of them.  I think all the local schools do a very good job, but Lansing is right on top."


Kirk sees the diversity of work as the element that he likes in both farming and lanscape work.  "Farming is so diversified -- that's why I like doing a lot of things," he says.  "When you're a dairy farmer you're an electrician, you're a plumber, you're a feed analyst guy.  That's why I like landscaping, too, because you can work in many areas.  It's a good business, because if one thing is slow you're doing something else.  It's not so one dimensional.  You can't be.  It's all seasonal business, so you have to flow with the seasons."

And speaking of diversity, the business has led him in at least one unexpected avenue at a neighbor's pet cemetery.  "We bury dogs for her," Kirk says.  "We have to wait for the service, and be the pall bearers, too.  We've built riding rinks, and horses die.  We got a call from Lake Ridge.  In the middle of winter one day a horse had jumped over a fence and broke its neck.  The lady called all distraught, so we buried the horse for her.  A doctor Peruville had a pony die in the barn.  We had to use ropes to get it out from way inside the barn, and then bury it."

He has also dug a human grave at Kingdom Farm.  "They have a cemetery there and occasionally they need a hole dug.  So we go down and dig it," he says.  "I've only planted one human.  I've planted several horses and dogs.  That was on the strange side."

Another job at Kingdom Farm involved dealing with animals in a different way.  A beaver was plugging up a pond and flooding the back lots there a couple of summers ago.  Kirk dug out the pond once a week for about a month until someone caught the pesky critter.

Kirk runs the business with one year 'round full time employee, and hires a few college students for the summer work season.  But he is also looking to the future.  He says that the kind of labor he does becomes tiring as he gets older, and he is looking for a niche in the retail side of the business that will allow him to sell people the things he needs without the hard labor of installing it.  "You can't compete as a fullblown hardware store in this town because of Lowes and the Home Depot," he says.  "So you have to find a niche and I guess that's what I'm looking for as I get older."

For now Kirk is happy with what he is doing.  "I really enjoy the work," he says.  "I'm a better worker than a businessman.  I like the variety and I like the people.  It's just nice that you know people are going to want, that they're going to enjoy later on.  Everything I do is creating something functional for that person, whether it's repairing the driveway so they can get in and out, or putting a lawn in so kids can play on it, or putting a fence up to keep the kids and dogs in the yard or out of the pool.  Or getting a basement drained so water's not coming in the house.  Those are all pretty important things to people."

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