Related Story: Dakota Vines opens doors in June
by Luann Dart
Down a winding lane, framed by a lush canopy of trees, Crooked Lane Farm is a storybook setting, welcoming visitors to tap their toes to a summer concert or paint vivid wooden barn quilts.
The husband and wife team of Mary Jo Schmid and Brent Larson breathed new life into Brent’s childhood farm when they moved back to the property to share it with others.
“We both really love the idea of people continuing to be lifelong learners, and folks really enjoy the idea of community and maintaining the arts through your communities and that’s the whole push behind our desire to have the farm operate as it does,” Mary Jo described.
The third-generation farm was established in 1912, when Brent’s grandfather settled along the Wild Rice River between Colfax and Abercrombie. The North Dakota Century Farm was once an active dairy and small grains farm. Ten years after Brent’s father died and his mother moved from the farm, Brent and Mary Jo retired from jobs in education and moved to the property.
“We always wanted to do something with the farm that would allow us to share it with a lot of other people,” Mary Jo said.
So, in 2014, they hosted their first summer concerts, charging a $2 admission fee and inviting local musicians to perform.
“We ended up with a pretty good following, so we continue those concerts today,” Mary Jo said.
In the winter of 2014, a gothic-style barn was moved to the property, relocated six miles across frozen fields to the Crooked Lane Farm, fulfilling Brent’s dream of replacing a barn that had burned down more than 40 years earlier.
By January 2015, they received their first call to host a wedding at the property, and the farm quickly evolved from just hosting summer concerts.
Today, Crooked Lane Farm hosts family gatherings, corporate retreats, weddings and other groups. But it continues to fulfill its main mission by hosting six summer concerts each season and classes nearly year-round.
Classes and events are hosted in the barn’s refurbished lower level, with a large hayloft to accommodate seating for up to 200 people. The couple also built a house on the property, where they live as well as host classes and music gatherings.
“We built it and designed it so it would be a big, wide-open area for us with a nice big kitchen. We’ve been able to teach some cooking classes and have a variety of other classes in here during the winter,” Mary Jo said.
During the winter, the couple hosts house concerts, where musicians set up in the home and 20 to 50 friends and neighbors enjoy the music.
“It’s a very intimate sort of gathering,” Mary Jo said.
A pole barn on the property adjacent to the barn offers more space for dances and concerts. The farmstead also has the original wooden granary, and small buildings such as a bunkhouse, blacksmith shop and hog barn.
“It’s a beautiful little farmstead,” Mary Jo said. “We really do live at the end of a crooked lane. It’s very winding, but when people get here, they’re surprised because it’s very lush.” The farm is located alongside the Wild Rice River, with a wooded backdrop.
They still host the summer concerts, but the admittance fee has increased to $5.
“Our summer concerts have really been fun for us,” Mary Jo said. “It’s a fun opportunity for a lot of local musicians to come out and do a concert.”
People bring their own chairs, and a lunch truck provides food during the concerts. What started as a crowd of 40 at the first concert numbered more than 200 at the end of last summer. The farm also hosts a vintage car show during the summer, where local owners bring their trucks and cars to show.
Another aspect of the farm are the classes. Crooked Lane Farm offers classes on crafting everything from lefse to wreaths, to crocheting, woodworking and quilting classes. Last year, the couple hosted a senior writing class, during which the participants wrote their own stories.
But the highlight may be the barn quilt classes.
Local women have formed the Red River Barn Quilt Trail, an area of small communities and farms where people have made and display their painted, wooden barn quilts for visitors to view.
“It’s a great way to attract tourists into your area,” May Jo said. “They’re just absolutely gorgeous.”
Visitors at Crooked Lane Farm can paint a quilt block onto a 2x2 wooden square to hang on their own property during the classes. And the barn at Crooked Lane Farm displays an 8x8 wooden quilt block, too.
Brent is a former teacher at the Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton School District in Minnesota and Mary Jo was a principal in Moorhead, Minn., so the move to a rural area was a change for them, especially Mary Jo. But she has fallen in love with the rural setting.
“I just love being here. I have absolutely no desire to move back,” she said. “I like the wonderful variety of people we’ve had the opportunity to meet. It’s astounding how many talented, gifted, interesting, spirited people we’ve had a chance to spend time with. They’re so enthused about whatever it is they’ve come to do with us, as well as being enthused about what they have to offer. It’s been a real wonderful adventure in that way.”
“When we started, we said we would do this for five years,” Mary Jo. They are now starting their fifth summer, and “we both were very enthusiastic about continuing.”
Recently, Crooked Lane Farm sold some of its acreage to Dakota Vines Vineyard and Winery, the first winery in Richland County. (See related story.)
“We just love the way we complement each other as far as the opportunities go,” Mary Jo said.
Crooked Lane Farm hopes to add more classes and growth in the rural community to continue to attract people for arts and opportunities to learn, she said. Visitors could then continue to explore opportunities in the area, including an interpretive center and museum in Abercrombie.
Those local collaborations have helped Crooked Lane Farm be successful, too.
“We probably owe our success to the support we’ve received from Colfax and Abercrombie and people in our surrounding community. People have just been encouraging and positive and they come to our events and are supportive of us. That’s been a great, positive piece for us,” Mary Jo said.
Luann Dart is a freelance writer and editor who lives in the Elgin area.
To learn more:
Crooked Lane Farm
17385 County Road 4, Colfax
(Served by Cass County Electric Cooperative)