PONDER — Sue Newhouse bought her 10 acres of farmland in Ponder in 1997. Three years later, up went her modest red barn, and in went mustangs. Two decades later, the horses are gone, a tractor sits where their stalls used to be and fresh fruit grows where the powerful beasts once grazed.
On Saturday, Oct. 7, patrons will have the chance to ask Newhouse and her husband, Brian O'Dwyer, about how what once was a horse ranch became Aunt Sue’s Barn, which is a functioning farm growing berries, peaches, pecans — and soon strawberries — among other foods and plants.
While many often see Newhouse and O'Dwyer at the Denton or Coppell community markets, they’ll soon be hosting a farm-to-table dinner and farm tour in the hopes of showcasing food and educating the public on where it comes from. The BYOB event will include a farm tour with the couple and a dinner of locally grown and raised foods from Aunt Sue’s Barn and other local farmers.
A portion of the proceeds will benefit the Denton Community Market.
The couple said they hope to educate people who are interested in learning about the successes and struggles of running a farm today.
“The world changes so fast,” said Newhouse, also known as "Aunt Sue." “Education is so important.”
She and O'Dwyer have day jobs working in technical departments in the medical field, so their berry-picking often must wait until afternoons and evenings after work. Sometimes, Newhouse said, they end up stretching harvesting time into the night, picking berries illuminated only by the headlights of their vehicles.
“There’s not anything you can’t find out how to plant,” Newhouse said, adding “there’s only a certain amount of time and money.”
But to them, Newhouse said, farming is an education all its own, and it’s something they are hoping to be able to share at their dinner.
Suzanne Johnson, co-owner of the Chestnut Tree Teahouse & Bistro on Denton's downtown Square, will be the chef for the night. Having done farm-to-table dinners before, she said she’s nervous but excited to be a part of another.
“I would much rather reinvest dollars into the people that invest dollars into me than pull that from somewhere else,” Johnson said.
After preparing for several months, Johnson said she’ll be preparing a menu with Mediterranean inspirations, highlighting fresh-baked bread and berry-infused dressing and jams provided by Aunt Sue’s Barn, alongside locally grown produce, root vegetables, a butternut squash soup, roasted goat, chicken with preserved lemons and pear ice cream.
“It’s a hard life,” Johnson said. “Sue’s been thinking about this [dinner] probably since the last one.”
Johnson was the chef for that farm-to-table dinner, the first at Aunt Sue’s Barn, in November 2015. The menu featured Italian braised beef braciole with sweet potato gnocchi, arugula salad and a pavlova with blackberry compote for dessert.
She said the dinner is an opportunity to experience seasonal foods provided by hardworking farmers.
"You have to look and see what's available," Johnson said.
When Newhouse and O'Dwyer began farming in 2007, they were so new they really didn’t know what questions to ask, or whom to ask them of.
Students from across Denton, many of them from the University of North Texas, have taken trips to see the farm, Newhouse said, and she’s able to share her experiences.
“The funny thing is, with UNT when the kids come out, it’s fun talking about what they’re taking in school, but they really come out because they want to learn about the farm,” Newhouse said. “They [get to] see how asparagus grows. [Often] they’ve never seen it come out of the ground; they don’t know where it comes from.”
What the couple hopes to show patrons on the night of their dinner is that, between their full-time jobs, they also partly run a full-time operation at Aunt Sue’s Barn, complete with peach and pecan tree orchards, a beehive, rows of berry plants and greenhouses that cover what soon will be rows of strawberries and flowers.
Not every season yields the same amount of success, though, so in a sense, the dinner acts as a sort of celebration as well.
O'Dwyer and Newhouse's farm has gone through hard winter freezes and heavy rain and hailstorms that affected their crops, and they’ve learned tough lessons.
“They’ve just started to do it, but there’s really no insurance for small farms,” O'Dwyer said, voicing one of the many risks of farming.
“Everyone always says, ‘Quit your day job and become a farmer,’” Newhouse said, adding that what often people don’t realize is that “it’s a huge risk.”
Tickets cost $65 for the second Fall Gathering and farm-to-table dinner at Aunt Sue's Barn. For tickets or more information, visit facebook.com/AuntSuesBarn or call Newhouse at 214-546-7416.
KYLE MARTIN can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and via Twitter @Kyle_Martin35.