For fans of the foraged food movement, wild stinging nettles, chicory and French dandelions surely sound enticing as salad ingredients on a restaurant menu.
But gathering these plants in the wild can raise several concerns, according to farmers Melissa and Ed Henrey. Cultivating these varieties, as the Henreys are doing with their new Southold venture The Farm Beyond, removes the guesswork for those looking for field-to-table dining.
“People can be secretive about where they are getting [foraged plants] from,” Ms. Henrey said in a recent interview inside the farm’s greenhouse. “We think food transparency and accountability is so important.”
Foragers gathering plants for restaurants and farmer’s markets can be less than forthcoming about their land sources, which might not sit well with consumers. And those with limited knowledge of wild plants can accidentally harvest harmful varieties, pick herbs and vegetables grown on polluted land or gather them in a way that harms a native population.
Still, the foraged movement has grown in popularity among high-end chefs and home cooks because of the plants’ high nutritional content and exceptional taste. That is especially true in northwest France, where the Henreys spent three years farming before moving to the North Fork in 2014.
“People have been doing this for generations,” Mr. Henrey said. “But as people are getting more and more into these kind of things, we are responding to them.”
Farmed foraged crops, as the Henreys call them, are only a portion of what The Farm Beyond will offer when it begins harvesting its first crops in the coming weeks. The couple will also grow about 70 varieties of vegetables, as well as flowers, on their land.
Expect crops like the French green Mâche, the Italian vegetable agretti as well as heirloom tomatoes, kale, cucumbers and more this summer.
“We’ll be selecting varieties that are a bit more rustic,” said Ms. Henrey, who owned an estate garden management firm in Connecticut for about a decade before becoming a farmer. “The choices of varieties will reflect who we are and what our experience has been.”
The Henreys are leasing five acres of land at the Peconic Land Trust’s Charnews Farm in Southold. For now, however, they plan to produce on just one acre.
“You can produce a lot with one acre if you do it properly,” said Mr. Henrey, whose past career was that of a science illustrator for organizations like the National Audubon Society. “We want to focus on technique so we’re not weeding all the time.”
In 2011, the couple left for Normandy, France, to put Mr. Henrey’s late grandparents’ farmland into production. There they both obtained the equivalent of master’s degrees in organic vegetable production but decided to return to the states after their son was born. Their second child, a daughter, was born earlier this year.
The Henreys chose the North Fork because it offers the most similar climate on the East Coast to that of Normandy. The small village where they farmed in Europe was also located about two hours outside Paris, offering a weekend and summer retreat for city dwellers similar to the East End.
“[The North Fork] is a combination of a good farming community with a great restaurant and foodie culture,” Mr. Henrey said.
The couple’s farm, which recently received organic certification from NOFA-NY, will offer shares through a very small community supported agriculture program this year. A total of just 30 slots are available, with distribution sites in Southold, Patchogue and Babylon.
Beginning Fridays in May, the Henreys will host a pop-up farm stand at 3005 Youngs Avenue in Southold. You can also find them at the Patchogue Farmers Market and Babylon Farmers Market this summer. For more information, visit farmbeyond.com.