Barn Appétite - A Forage & Fields gathering
ERIN DICKEY - With each step towards the loft, the normalcy of Saturday night became lost inside the serene perfection seemingly found only in a magazine. Unfolding just outside the southern limits of Stromsburg, Nebraska, an evening of semi-gloss-page-perfection opened a top the small bluff of Twogood Farm and concluded under a tree rooted deep in the history of Polk County’s heritage. Forage & Fields, an intimate event offering an opportunity to learn about grass-fed beef and the native aronia berry, allowed room for the limited reservation of ten individuals to gather on the evening of May 6, 2017.
Weather, only to be described as perfect, soaked into every pore of the Twogood Farm. Established lines of evergreens and budding trees threw shade across the vibrant grass that flanked the driveway tangent to County Road M. The wet noses of man’s best friend greeted and happily escorted everyone as they made their way to the large front porch and into the home of Ryan and Rachel Twogood. A line-up of hors d’oeuvres became the focal point of the great room as everyone was introduced to each other and to the practice of grass-fed beef and the wonders of the aronia berry. Drizzled in the deep purple, aronia sauce and garnished with crisp parsley, the snowy white rind of brie cheese presented itself more like a piece of art rather than a delicious snack that it was. Rectangular crackers, marinated in seasonings, lined the outer rim of the circular cheese and complimented the savory warmth of the melting cheese with the tart and slightly-sweet sauce. Cindy Schofield, pours small glasses of the antioxidant-rich juice as she explains how her and her husband John, began growing aronia berries last year. Behind the island, tender cuts of filet mignon from Twogood’s grass-fed cattle, have been covered generously with salt and pepper and laid into the bottom of a cast iron skillet. Sitting above the flame, the tender cuts crackle and hiss as their edges begin to caramelize into a slight crust. Finishing in the oven, the juicy filet was served as a compliment to the other hors d’oeuvres.
Out the back doors of the white farm house a large post and beam barn holds a position of dominance on the Twogood farm. The double sliding doors are open and offer a view straight through the barn and out the open back door. Walking into the barn, a floor canvased in dirt and fresh tree shavings welcomed everyone as they crossed through its threshold. Overhead, gilded in strength, a ceiling of timbers has been accessorized with a simple strands of small globe lights.
Swaying gently in the easterly breeze, these pearls of light flirt playfully against the rough beams spanning from post to post. A L-shaped stairway invites everyone upstairs. An aged pitchfork stands at attention on the small landing when you turn towards the final steps into the loft.
A large farm table holds ornate dishes decorated in birds and flowers as well as dishes from Stromsburg’s own historic Scott Block building. Flitting in and out of the trusses, nervous barn swallows offer melodies for the refrain of vintage banjos and acoustic strums of folk-infused music. Bouquets of vibrant green grasses and glass jars of various seeds act as center pieces for the picturesque setting.
The open door of the loft invited a light breeze as a fresh salad from Rachel’s garden was served. Topped with cheese, nuts, onions, fresh strawberries and aronia dressing, Rachel’s salad was just a preview of the main dish. Fitted with a sitting area and room for a serving table, the loft felt more like a living room than a barn. An owl of the plastic species sat on the railing over our shoulders as a dish of juicy round roast, baby potatoes in cream sauce and peas was sat before us. A decorative radish and warm bread filled the plates as casual conversation carried on.
A tour of the Twogood Farm followed the meal. Rachel and Ryan discussed some of the practices of how they keep their cattle healthy and happy. Apple cider vinegar is an important staple to the registered black angus’ diet which is filled with intensive grazing of legumes, flax, oats and barley. The Twogoods are passionate about soil and the importance of keeping it balanced not only for their cattle but for crops as well. Walking out into the pasture the intense blaze of the spring sun turned all things to the west into a silhouette of high contrast black objects against the golden orange brilliance. The skyline of Stromsburg blended into the trees and down into the pasture filled with cows and calves. With each head of cattle eating roughly thirty pounds of grasses a day, the herd is moved everyday allowing the cattle plenty of dense forage and giving the pasture time to recover and grow again.
Explaining how the chicken mobile following the cows in the pasture helps with flies.
After completing the tour of the Twogood Farm, we moved down the road to the Schofield’s Aronia Berry Farm located on the historic Morrill Homestead.
John and Cindy Scholfield, who moved back to Stromsburg in August of 2013 planted their aronia plants last spring after being inspired by Shane and Mary Hanson’s aronia field which is located directly between the Twogoods and Scholfield’s homes. The aronia berry has been steadily gaining ground as the most popular super fruit on the market. The small dark berry is packed with nutrients and contains highest antioxidant capacity among berries and other fruits evaluated. With high antioxidant properties, these berries are believed to protect against many degenerative diseases, such as heart disease and cancer and can help protect your skin from harmful pollutants and ultraviolet rays. Due to its power packed punch, the aronia berry must be consumed as a supplement to a healthy and balanced diet.
Aronia cobbler with homemade aronia berry ice-cream.
The Scholfields’ aronia bushes are planted in rows with a substantial distance to allow for growth and space for berry picking machines to navigate through. Located in the middle of the field, a large tree boasting of many years overlooks the rows of bushes. Fancied with a black chandelier, the tree stood over a farm table dressed in a white table cloth. Small votive candles, detailed cups and saucers and vase of purple lilacs invited everyone to gather at the table. A small fire pit and pathway lanterns calmly lit the outdoor space, making the vast countryside feel cozy and serene. The large red ‘S’ shined through the tree line to the north and the waxing gibbous moon hung through the tree branches above. Steaming cups of vanilla nut coffee turned to taupe as cool cream poured into them. A wonderful rhubarb dessert topped with aronia ice cream matched the lilacs in the center of the table and was the perfect end to the forage and fields event.
To the east of the table, the homestead stood as it always has since the late 1880’s. A solid piece of history for not just Polk County but for Nebraska, the Morrill Homestead watched quietly as another moment in history was made as a small group of people were granted the opportunity to experience the value of coming together and gathering around the table.