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Field to Fork

Educating Food Consumers Through On-Farm Dining Experiences

By Dee Ann Littlefield, NRCS public affairs specialist

Rodney and Susan Schronk recently had some guests over for dinner at their farm near 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 corn field back drop, while the Schronks 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. But, as it turns out, American consumers don’t know that.

“There is a lot of propaganda out there about food safety and quality,” he continues. “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.”

The evening was a gala event – with fresh flowers adorning china-set farmhouse tables in a corn field 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’s 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), which is 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.”

“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 organizer Quenna Terry, public relations specialist with the NRCS, 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 corn field 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 told the group.

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 is growing up through a cover crop mix that was 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 talked to the group about being a mom and cooking for her family every night and the decisions she makes about serving quality food to her family.

“I want to serve my family food that is as close to the source as possible,” she said.  She explained sometimes that is from her garden and other times from farmers markets or the grocery store. “I have great confidence in our supply of American grown food. 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.”

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 Schronks harvested corn and wheat which they ground through their mill. That freshly ground wheat and corn meal was then given to the guests to take home, along with the recipe for Susan’s mother’s corn bread.

Dinner, consisting of salad with fresh 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.

Rodney is a cancer survivor and healthy food is the most important to him and his family.

“This event is a great opportunity for farmers to have conversations about the food we grow and how we produce it,” Rodney said, addressing 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 added. “I hope more farmers and commodity groups get on board and we start seeing more events like this around the country.”

,Field to Fork, Dee Ann Littlefield, NRCS Public Affairs Specialist (2018, October)