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Shear genius: Getting to know Fulton County Chairman Argotsinger

Saturday, May 17, 2014 - Updated: 4:09 AM


MAYFIELD -- A political official by day, and farmer by night: meet Richard Argotsinger -- a Cornell graduate, Mayfield town supervisor, chairman of the Fulton County Board of Supervisors and sheep farmer.

Although a local political figure, 66-year-old Argotsinger is a farmer first and may never give up his agricultural lifestyle.

"Farmers never retire ... they grow old and die," Argotsinger said Friday in his barnyard full of sheep. "I say that all the time, and that is the way it has been with everyone in my father's family."

Argotsinger was born in 1948 in Gloversville. At age two, his father purchased farm land adjacent to the barn he currently owns off of Route 29 in Mayfield.

He said he was eight years old when he got his first ewe. It was shipped from Ohio to Fonda and then his father's farm; he started a hobby and stuck with it.

From there, Argotsinger said he accumulated a few more, but then gave them away before leaving for Cornell University in 1966.

At college, he majored in animal science and graduated with a bachelor's degree. At first, he tinkered in research, and then worked for two different feed companies for the next five years.

In the mid 1980s, Argotsinger's father lost his hand in farming accident. He said he came home, purchased the farm and never left.

Before focusing on sheep, Argotsinger ran a poultry business out of his farm, where he had more than 50,000 hens laying eggs.

He sold the eggs to the majority of the hospitals, restaurants, nursing homes, small grocery stores and convenience stores in the area.

"That business changed over the years. I can remember supermarket was the local guys ... now you have Price Chopper and Hannaford," Argotsinger said.

In 1996, he sold off all the chickens, and began purchasing more ewes.

Currently, Argotsinger owns 200 sheep.

He was in his element Friday, shearing the animals to prepare them for a long and hot summer.

During this time of year, his sheep are typically found roaming around his 250 acre farm. He built moving fences, which he rotates around his property, according to where the longest and greenest grass grows.

Argotsinger said owning sheep is a hobby, but he also makes a small profit.

He shears sheep and sells the wool, but Argotsinger admits it does not bring in a large amount of money.

Currently, wool sells for about 35 cents a pound; it takes two pounds to sew a sweater.

He relies on his lambs for the bulk of his sales. He sells them to meat markets in the Bronx and Pennsylvania, which cook them whole, so as not to waste any of the meat.

"The profit-end of sheep in the east is the lambs. Unfortunately, wool is only worth something if you are going to buy it," Argotsinger said.

Argotsinger has witnessed the agriculture industry change over the years, for all types of farmers.

More recently, he has witnessed a greater demand for organic produce and less Genetically Modified Organisms.

"With today's population, you can't produce enough to supply the population and ... not everyone wants organic," he said. "There is still a huge number of the population that just wants it cheap."

He said the wool industry has changed as well.

Thirty years ago, carpet manufacturers would purchase wool to weave into their products.

Argotsinger said the industry has since switched to synthetic material, creating less of a push for pure wool.

However, he said there has been a resurgence in sales lately, but east coast farmers do not produce enough sheep to profit from the business.

He said larger sheep herders on the west coast own about 5,000 sheep and a surplus of land.

There are 43 breeds of sheep in total, and manufacturers do not like inconsistency with wool, which is why they buy in bulk from a farm in California instead of several smaller farms in the east.

"It was always sellable but the price you make is minimal," Argotsinger said.

When Argotsinger is not shearing sheep, he is sporting a suit and tie in the board of supervisor's chambers.

He said he never intended on getting involved in the political scene until he approached his late 50s.

"I had no political ambitions whatsoever," Argotsinger said.

However, Argotsinger said he got involved in 2006 when his cousin was on the town board. He ran and was elected -- it all was really that simple for Argotsinger.

When former town supervisor Alan "Herb" McLain passed away in 2009, he was appointed to the position, and has not lost an election since.

Late last year, the board of supervisors elected him as chairman of the board.

Currently, he is excited about projects that could have a positive effect on the county's tax space and sales tax intake.

That includes the county's latest endeavor, the SMART Water initiative, which is a plan to create a regional water and waster water system.

"I am excited about the possible changes we can make to the county which would help the town of Mayfield," Argotsinger said.

Argotsinger said it worries him there are not a lot of people who want to run for the town board.

Recently, a councilman abruptly resigned from his position, and Argotsinger does not see a lot of enthusiasm from the public about the next election.

He said everyone says they are too busy to run.

"I mean, you look at society ... you look at these roads right here in front of the barn. It is hard to even cross that road sometimes because there is so much traffic," Argotsinger said. 'Where they are going and what they are doing, I am not sure, but everyone is going today," Argotsinger.

Between his job as supervisor, position as chairman, and his 200 sheep, it is hard to believe Argotsinger is not complaining about being busy as well.

But he doesn't complain, rather enjoys the life he created for himself.

Argotsinger said he appreciates the simplicity of a farm, the slow pace of a rural community and time he spends caring for his sheep.

"I guess I like it because they don't talk back to me, they don't demand anything, and you go about your pace the way you want to do it," Argotsinger said.

"It is rewarding in that aspect ... the fact that basically you are helping to feed the world."


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