By Rick Hiduk Spring 2015
Nestled in the rolling hills of Sunbury is the family-friendly Owens Farm, which offers numerous hands-on learning activities and experiences for adults and children. While sheep have become a primary focus for educational opportunities, visitors to the Owens Farm will also see humanely raised pigs, beef cattle, chickens, turkeys, horses, and honey bees.
“The sheep is such a small animal that the kids can really get their hands on them and really learn things … not just out of a book,” said Caroline Owens, referring to the farmstead as a living classroom. “Sustainable agriculture is going through a major shift, and the kids are the ones who are going to be carrying on that good work into the next generation.”
The 112-acre Northumberland County spread is actually the second farm run by Caroline and her husband, David, and their three children. They started with 13 acres in New Hampshire as an endeavor in living off the land without the use of chemicals and growth stimulants and soon attracted the attention of their neighbors, who asked them if they could raise and sell some extra animals.
“People are interested in their food and where it comes from,” David told a news reporter in a 2009 interview. “There has been a lot of talk in the press about what is actually in our food and if it is really good for us.”
Caroline serves as the education coordinator for hands-on activities at the Owens Farm, which moved to Sunbury in July 2008. She holds degrees in animal science and agricultural education from Cornell and Boston universities and has worked as a vocational agriculture teacher, as well as in marketing and equestrian travel.
Members of the Owens family are strong proponents of raising animals in a natural setting. Portable fencing and shelters allow them to move a variety of livestock from fields to forest to avoid overgrazing and to promote the health and happiness of their animals. Pigs, cows, and horses often share the same open spaces and live in harmony with each other.
Some events have become seasonal staples at the Owens Farm, while other activities, such as “hayfield polo” and farm-fresh dinner parties, are offered more occasionally. Registered patrons are kept abreast of special events via email, with a complete listing also available at www.owensfarm.com, an impressive website that highlights Caroline’s marketing skills.
Popular annual events start in February of each year with Lambing Slumber Parties, which continue into March. Participants age 7 and older arrive on a Friday afternoon and get a crash course in lamb birthing and other aspects of livestock farming. One adult is required to accompany every three children enrolled.
Participants at a slumber party event may enjoy a sunset walk prior to a healthy supper, which is followed by a barn check, a discussion on lambing, and an evening movie. A midnight barn check is optional. After rising with the sun and taking care of morning chores, families enjoy a pancake breakfast before departing.
Group sizes are limited, and participants sleep in a carpeted, heated area that overlooks the lambing area. Why so close to the animals? Because February to March is prime birthing season for sheep, and participants may be woken by the clatter below as new lambs are coming into the world.
For a more in-depth experience, adults and teens can take part in a Lambing Clinic, which will be held on Saturday, March 14, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Veterinarian Dr. Jackie Rapp will conduct an informative morning session to be followed by demonstrations in the sheep barn and lambing area related to the birthing season. Some 100 ewes deliver lambs between February and March, offering ample opportunities for observation.
Boys and girls ages 7 to 12 are invited back to the Owens Farm in the summer to participate in Sheep Camp for Kids. Daily instruction in sheep care is offered, as well as games like hide-and-go-sheep and lamb races. The camp runs from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. each day. Each child is partnered with a sheep for a week to learn the science and psychology of sheep care and how wool is prepared from a sheered fleece.
As cute and cuddly as their livestock may be, the Owenses make no pretense about the fact that many of the animals raised on the farm end up on the dinner table. “We do a session on meats. They learn where the cuts come from and why lamb is so popular worldwide,” Caroline related. “We never lie to them. We don’t sugarcoat it.”
Reservations and deposits are required for all activities, and children under 12 are admitted for free to events more geared toward adults and teens. Activities to be conducted over the next few months include Lambing Slumber Parties on Fridays and Saturdays, March 6 and 7 and 27 and 28; the aforementioned Lambing Clinic; Pastured Pork Day on Saturday, April 18; and Sheep Camp for Kids on Mondays to Fridays, June 15 to 19, June 29 to July 3, and July 13 to 17. The Owens Farm also offers an Adopt-a-Sheep program.
Ongoing Guided Farm Tours are conducted on Wednesdays through Saturdays as available and run from one to two hours depending on size of group and age range. The open, 500-foot sleeping area utilized for the Lambing Slumber Parties will be available for lodging, with bunks to accommodate up to six guests, beginning Wednesday, April 1, and continuing through Sunday, Nov. 1. A self-catering kitchen and full bath are situated on the first floor.
Early registration is encouraged for all activities, and regular customers are given priority. There is also a full range of farm products for sale on site, and orders can be made in advance through the website.
IF YOU GO:
2611 Mile Post Road,
Sunbury, PA 17801