Field to Fork: Educating Consumers Through On-Farm Dining Experiences

Rodney Schronk speaks to guests during dinner about the food he grows and how he produces it.

Rodney and Susan Schronk recently had guests for dinner at their farm outside of Hillsboro, Texas. These guests weren’t just any guests though, they were Texas legislative staff, community leaders and some of the most influential food and lifestyle bloggers from across the state of Texas. And the dinner? It was master-chef prepared homegrown Texas cuisine served outdoors with a cornfield backdrop, while the Schronk’s cattle looked on.

“As farmers, we have really dropped the ball when it comes to food education,” Rodney said. “We have our heads down working in our fields all the time, with the personal knowledge that we are producing high quality, safe and nutritious food to feed America. As it turns out, American consumers don’t know that.”

“There is a lot of propaganda out there about food safety and quality,” he said, “and the consumer is so far removed from the farm by the time they buy the food, they really don’t know how safe the product is.”

“This event literally brought us, the farmer, to the table with those who inform and educate the people that consume our products,” Rodney said.

Schronk Family Farm hosts 75 guests for the Field to Fork dinner at their farm outside of Hillsboro.

The evening was a gala event – with fresh flowers adorning china-set farmhouse tables in a cornfield setting. The outdoor affair started with appetizers, including House Cured Locally Raised Ham, Veldhuizen Redneck Cheddar Cheese South Texas Antelope “Frito Pie,” Shiner Bock Cornmeal Battered Catfish/Chipotle Aioli, Charred Sweet Corn Texas Blue Crab Esquite.

Each station was staffed with a CommonGround volunteer to explain where and how the food was grown, along with a chef to explain how it was prepared. They also visited with attendees about corn and conservation topics such a soil health, water quality, and conservation tillage.

The Field to Fork event was sponsored by the Water Grows initiative (watergrows.org), a partnership between the Texas Corn Producers (TCP) and the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).

“We just really wanted to bridge the gap between the farmers producing the high-quality products on their farm to the producers that are buying it on the shelves of their grocery store or ordering it in their favorite restaurants,” David Gibson, TCP executive director, said. “We wanted these bloggers to have an on-farm dining experience to show them these are real farmers producing real food.”

Women farmers volunteering through CommonGround talk to guests about where and how food is grown.

“One of our goals was for the bloggers to meet the farmers and see how hard they work to grow these crops in a sustainable way that not only produces highly nutritious food that is good for us to eat, but it’s also good for the environment,” event co-organizer and public relations specialist with the NRCS, Quenna Terry said.

In addition to the bloggers, legislators, decision-makers, fellow farmers and ranchers and NRCS conservation professionals were invited to the event. They were given a tour of a cornfield where the Schronks had planted non-GMO sweet corn, GMO sweet corn, and field corn. The shucks were peeled back on the ready to harvest sweet corn showing the differences in each.

“The GMO sweet corn has been genetically modified to resist pests and diseases and actually requires less pesticides and herbicide application than the non-GMO corn during the growing process,” Rodney said.

Rodney Schronk shows food bloggers the difference in his corn varieties and why it’s important.

The Schronks talked to the group about conservation practices they had applied through consultation and recommendations from the NRCS. They walked the group through their cotton field, which was growing up through a cover crop mix created by the NRCS.

“The cover crop plants take up excess soil nutrients we don’t need and when they decay they deposit the nutrients the next crop needs,” Rodney said. “We can actually tell a difference in the superior quality of plant production in the crops that are grown with a cover crop and crop rotation sequence.”

Susan Schronk, talked to the group about being a mom and the decisions she makes about serving quality food to her family each and every meal.

“I want to serve my family food that is as close to the source as possible,” Susan said.

She explained sometimes the produce is from her personal garden and other times from local farmers markets or the grocery store.

“We are just one example of families across the nation that work hard to produce highly nutritious, safe products that go into our food supply chain,” she said.

Susan gave the attendees a tour of her garden, with special respects to her prized tomato plants.

Sons Ryan and Trey Schronk harvested sweet corn from the field for guests to take home with them.  One week prior to the event, the Schronk family harvested corn and wheat which they ground through their mill. The freshly ground wheat and cornmeal were then given to the guests to take home, along with the recipe for Susan’s mother’s cornbread.

The main course of Texas Surf and Turf are plated and ready to serve.

Dinner, consisting of salad with freshly picked ingredients, mesquite grilled shrimp, and filet mignon, along with grilled vegetables and potatoes with homemade sourdough bread, was served at sunset and featured Rough Creek Lodge Chef Gerard Thompson explaining each course.

“This event is a great opportunity for farmers to have conversations about the food we grow and how we produce it,” Rodney said as he addressed the bloggers. “It’s important that we share our personal experiences, as well as science and research, to help consumers like you sort through the myths and misinformation surrounding food and farming.”

“I really want to commend the Texas Corn Producers and the NRCS for bringing us all to the table to have these important conversations,” he said. “I hope more farmers and commodity groups get on board and we start seeing more events like this around the country.”