By Steve Sears
Roseanne Oblen, for 35 years the owner of the 27-acre farm, lovingly calls to the one which is napping. “Nellie – come on Nell, get up!” Per Oblen, Nellie likes her naps, but eventually she raises and slowly rises from sleep, and Oblen cheerfully says, “There you go. Aww, my little Nellie, you’re such a good girl.” She then turns educator, stating, “Pigs do not have sweat glands, that’s why they lay in the mud.” She then looks back at Nellie with a wide grin. “She’s a happy girl,” says Oblen, petting the dark pig, whose tail sways back and forth. “Who wouldn’t be,” Oblen laughs, “with a mud bath?”
It’s all about fun at High View Farms. It’s also about learning.
Most of all, it’s about love of agriculture and animals. As Oblen says, if you love them, they’ll love you back. For that reason, High Views Farm is never a lonely place for her. “Oh no. My family is here, and my animals. That’s my solace. It’s unconditional love. They (the animals) just want to be fed, watered, and paid attention to.”
There’s much more, including two words that she uses often to describe a day at her spot of peace: freedom and therapy. Highview Farms is not open to the public, but is open to school groups, hosts birthday parties, and during the last two weeks of August hosts P.E.A.K. Adventures for autistic children only. Oblen doesn’t want competition with other farms. She doesn’t want to sell produce or do CSA. For her, it’s all about the children, entertaining them, and education – the wonder of it all. “I do farm adventures where the kids come and spend a couple of hours with animals; I want them to relate to animals. A lot of farms don’t; they’re in to crops and vegetables and things like that, and animals are a lesser thing, and to me they’re the more important things.”
“The ironic thing is, I always wanted to be a teacher, and now I am.”
Consider the following. For those who don’t know farming, who have never set foot on farmland or ventured near a silo, Oblen provides an inkling of the life in brief. “They (passersby) think they see grass fields and they can do things on it, and it’s all in production. All your fields are in production for hay. They don’t see that being a hay field. They just think it’s a lawn; they have no clue. They’re hayfields, cornfields, all different types of things. People don’t understand. Also, corn is from the grass family. People don’t know that. Each silk that you see on the corn is connected to a kernel for growing. Another thing about chickens people don’t know is that you can determine the color of the eggs (they hatch) by the earlobe of the chicken.”
Seated in the large barn on her property, where many birds have found nesting spots and chirp often while she talks about her love of animals and agriculture, Oblen discusses the history of her farm. She awakens at 5:30 a.m. daily to the “heehaw” of one of two donkeys, and then looks out her window to see the crops in the field, and the animals roaming in their pens. “It makes me feel good. I was a nurse, I worked in a hospital, and I‘d rather work with animals, crops, and gardening. It’s a little more of the freedom that you feel, and you feel good not going into ‘work.’”
Oblen and her family were living in Wallington in Bergen County, that busy area a boulder’s throw from the serenity she now enjoys. “There it goes,” she says with a laugh as she hears a donkey, either Paco or Pablo, calling to her. “There’s my alarm.” She, her husband at the time, and her four children then moved to busy Clifton in Passaic County, and the congestion of that area nudged the family to Western Jersey, and to what eventually became High View Farms.
From the barn area, to your left are viewable corn stalks, and straight ahead, behind rolling green hills, a neighboring dairy farm, where Oblen has in the past milked cows, and even artificially inseminated one. “I learned how to do artificial insemination on the cows because, with my nursing background, I know the anatomy and physiology. I studied it on the cow and their cycles. Goats have a cycle in the spring and in the fall, but cows are continuous. It was so gratifying when the calf was born 9 months later, and you feel you’re really a part of the whole situation. It was therapy.” She then adds, “I miss the cows, but I don’t miss the 5 in the morning to 5 at night, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.”
When she first arrived in Mount Olive, Oblen didn’t envision living farm life. In fact, she had no idea about farm life. When she bought the property, the farm didn’t exist – but she created it. She purchased the property, built her house, built her barn, “and then we started with chickens,” she says, “and I had no idea what I was doing, but we had 250 laying hens. I was selling eggs, and then my oldest son, who was six at the time and in Little League, had a friend over. I said to the kid he was playing with, ‘Joey, come on into the hen house. Maybe you’ll see a chicken lay an egg.’ And he said, ‘Hey lady, they (eggs) come from A&P.’ I said, ‘Hey Joey, they’ve got to come from here (the chickens) first.”
“I never really feared it,” she says of those early days of the foray into farming. “I looked at it as a challenge and I was doing it. I went down to the Hackettstown auction market and the farmers down there loved to help and explain things. So that’s where I learned a lot of things – like chickens start laying eggs at five months of age.”
Oblen is a 4-H (Head, Hands, Heart, and Health) Club leader in the area. “It all relates because we have to think, we have to feel, and we have to do,” she says. She is head of the Feathered Friends, which focuses on poultry care, breeds, and showmanship; Furry Friends, teaching the care of rabbits, cavies, and other small animals; Just Kid ‘n” Around, which explores goat care, breeds, and showmanship; Busy Bees ( she has a hive for honey down by the woods at the edge of her property); a Seedlings garden club, which educates youngsters in the sowing and growing of flowers, fruits and vegetables; and finally Radical RC Racers, which focuses on the basics of RC cars including repairs, racing, and design.
When welcoming guests to High View farms, Oblen and her family are ready to dispense learning, along with a little bit of fun. When school visits are scheduled or birthday parties are held, your class or child’s party is THE event, THE visitor. Only one event is held at a time. High View Farms is yours for the time you are there, to look, learn, touch, and maybe even hug an animal. As for the birthday parties, which last 1 ½ hours, farm animals are visited, touched, held, hands afterwards are washed, pizza and drinks are served, and then Monster Trucks (along with the birthday child) reign supreme, eleven children seat belted in for a ride of fun. Following that, it’s cupcakes time and singing “Happy Birthday.” Oblen’s grandchildren are involved, so High View Farms is now a third-generation farm. Her grandson, Shane, and granddaughter, Sammy, run the birthday parties, and Oblen’s son, Shawn, is behind the wheel in the Monster Trucks.
Wandering away from the High View Farms barn yields visits first to (and some calls from) chickens, rabbits, goats, and…turkens, a chicken which has no feathers on its neck. And, no, they are not half chicken and half turkey. They all know Oblen, hurry to greet her. Jackson the New Zealand rabbit scampers away, but 3-year-old Fluffy nestles in her arms. “They all have different personalities,” she says regarding how soon they get to know her after birth. “There not classic cases; they’re all different.” Next it’s cows, goats, pigs, and a horse. “Goats, sheep, cows, alpacas, llamas, deer – all have no teeth on top,” she shows a visitor, always the friendly, knowledgeable teacher. “They have molars for grinding, but nothing in front. They’re called ruminants; they have four stomachs. People have asked me if I have pulled them (their teeth) out, and I say, ‘No, that’s the way God made them.’ That’s why when we go around with the kids, we can hand feed these guys.”
Corn is grown for the animals, and there’s just one horse living at High View Farm, 15-year-old Sonny, a palomino who does the horsey rides at the parties. There is also a garden on the property, where kids in the 4-H Seedlings club have their own plots. “They’re growing their own vegetables and everything,” Oblen says with a smile, peering at this tiny square of beauty and color dotting her land.
Stanley, “Stash” for short, visits the farm often. A 4-H member, he holds one of his inherited chickens. He’s taken care of it since chick days, and it rests in his arms calmly. “I love it,” he says, petting the animal’s head. He has six in total on the farm, and you can tell by his voice and the care in which he handles the chicken that he relishes the opportunity.
“Opportunity.” Oblen saw it when she transitioned to a new home and new life in 1984, taking a chance and building a barn and nurturing a farm – and all the goodness that comes with it. And High View Farms and the Township of Mount Olive reciprocally give back to each other. Except for wintertime, Oblen hosts 4-H meetings in her barn, and the township has graciously allowed Oblen and the 4-Hers to meet in the library or municipal building. Oblen herself, if needed, will visit schools for science fairs, many times with farm animals in tow. “They love the baby chicks,” she says of the school children, “and I bring rabbits, too. They love rabbits – all types of rabbits. But the baby chick is the neatest because it develops so fast. One week it’s just fuzz, then next week it’s got wing feathers.”
For more information about High View Farms and all it offers, call (908) 303-0010, or visit www.highviewfarms.net.