Agritourism stop among final Leadership Susquehanna Valley class

Published: 5/19/2017 10:00 AM
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By Sarah DeSantis

THE NEWS-ITEM sarah_d@newsitem.com

KLINES GROVE — The Leadership Susquehanna Valley Class of 2017 wrapped up its final lesson Thursday with a tour of several of the region’s tourism hotspots.

Among the stops was Owens Farm, an agritourism venture located along Mile Post Road about halfway between Sunbury and Riverside.

Caroline and David Owens, who co-own and operate the working farm, gave a presentation to the students on the growth of the farm’s programming, which includes guided farm tours, a summer sheep camp, a lambing slumber party, an adopt-a-sheep program and one unit of overnight lodging. The couple then led the students on a tour of the farm, which included visits to the pastures where ewes and lambs grazed and the pen filled with pigs and piglets.

David Owens said the couple decided to open their farm to visitors after seeing a lack of agriculture education in the area.They both came from education backgrounds and sought to provide an opportunity for children to learn about where meat and other animal products, like wool, came from.

“We just kind of did what we thought our own kids would like,” he said.

The idea proved a hit, and their summer sheep camp has a waiting list each year. The camp pairs each child with his or her own lamb for the weeklong program to practice providing basic care. Campers also learn about animal science, make crafts using wool and play sheep-themed games.

The lambing slumber parties, held from Friday nights to Saturday mornings in March, also frequently sell out. Guests stay in a space overlooking the lambing area with the hope a sheep will give birth during the weekend they picked. The hours waiting are filled with sheep-themed movies, barnyard chores and lamb work like ear tagging.

The farm’s overnight accommodations, which are available year-round, have drawn guests from around the world, including Australia and Thailand. Caroline Owens said guests are welcome to participate in farm chores, or simply enjoy a vacation in the countryside.

“People with kids will often want their kids to see a real working farm,” she said. “That’s what distinguishes us. We’re not a petting zoo.”

During the tours of the pastures, she described the challenge of moving the 130 ewes and their lambs around the 112-acre farm like “a chess game” to avoid overgrazing. She said the farm’s pigs and piglets are raised without antibiotics using traditional farming methods.

The farm manages risk by having buyers “reserve” meat months before the animal is fully grown. The family uses locally-grown grain and local butchers, Caroline Owens said.

Chris Berleth, relationship manager for the Greater Susquehanna Valley, said tourism is among the eight major topics for Leadership Susquehanna Valley because of its importance to the region. The other topics are education, communication, health and human services, economic development, local government, law and judiciary and agriculture.

“The purpose of the program is to strengthen the skill sets of emerging and established leaders in the valley using the valley as its classroom,” he said. “Tourism is a huge industry in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.”

Andrew Miller, executive director of the Susquehanna River Valley Visitors Bureau, said he uses the day dedicated to tourism to show off some of the valley’s gems. Other stops on Thursday’s tour were the Weis Center for the Performing Arts, Spyglass Ridge Winery, Kohl’s Stony Hill Tree Farm and Christmas Shoppe and Clyde Peeling’s Reptiland.

“It gives us a chance to showcase all the amenities in our own backyard,” Miller said.

Thursday’s tour was the final lesson for the Class of 2017. Berleth said the application process for Leadership Susquehanna Valley 2018 will be open until June 15. He encouraged anyone interested in gaining leadership skills to apply by contacting him at 570-743-4100 or cberleth@gsvcc.org.

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