Fresh Forage Restaurant Brings Farm-to-Table to Life

Dexter residents Andrew Serano and Samuel Boyce opened Fresh Forage Sept. 3 and the farm-to-table restaurant has taken off right from the start.  I paid a visit to the two young entrepreneurs to learn more about their venture, and to get lunch.

If you’re looking for fresh food, delicious and preferably harvested locally, closer to peak ripeness, packed with natural flavor and nutrients, Fresh Forage just may be your next lunch stop.

Left: Andrew Serano, Right: Samuel Boyce

“Farm-to-table” or “farm-to-fork” is a social movement in which restaurants and other food services serve local food acquired directly from the producer through a farmer’s market or direct acquisition.  Farm-to-table incorporates the concept of food traceability, knowing where your food comes from, where consumers identify the food source.

“Growing up we had our family farm where my dad does about 2-acres of vegetables which is about 70 different crops a year,” Sam explains.  “I saw the value of having that fresh food and that’s what we eat every summer.  If green beans are in season, we eat green beans.  If it’s zucchini, we eat zucchini.”

Sam’s family farm has been in the family since the 1830’s, before Michigan was a state.  The Boyce homesteading tradition of growing your own food continued through American history and the family generations.  “That kind of foundation is where my passion for food came from,” he says.

The farm-to-table movement is a result of changing thought about food safety, freshness, seasonality, as well as small-farm economics and sustainability.  Dynamics that promote the farm-to-table concept are the,

  • Scarcity of fresh, local ingredients.
  • Poor flavor of ingredients shipped from far away.
  • Poor nutritional value of shipped ingredients.
  • Disappearance of small family farms.
  • Disappearance of heirloom and open-pollinated fruits and vegetables.
  • Dangers of a highly centralized food production system.

As passionate as they are about their niche, Sam and Andrew had to make peace with the fact that their restaurant couldn’t be 100% locally sources.  “Nobody is growing things like brown rice or avocados,” Andrew explains.

“But our food is about 85% locally sourced,” adds Sam.  “For example, people are blown away by the cherry tomatoes we have here.  That’s because they are picked when they are ripe.”

“That’s what makes our food so unique,” Andrew says, “the freshness of it.  It’s a big thing for us especially with the meats – to know everything is pasture-raised, ethically raised.  We know the farmers and their practices.”

In the world of restaurant operations, the farm-to-table model is doing it the hardest way possible.  Sam has 12 years of restaurant experience as a chef and Fresh Forage is a culmination of what he has leaned along the way in MSU’s commercial kitchens, Ann Arbor’s Plum Market, and most recently at Dexter’s Barred Rock Café before opening Fresh Forage.

In a traditional restaurant, the restaurateur conceives the menu item first and then gets the ingredients from a centralized commercial supplier.  The ingredients come from wherever.  In a farm-to-table restaurant, menu items are created from what is seasonally available from local producers.  The menu is revolving, and constantly evolving.

Forage: a wide search for food or provisions. 

Fresh: newly made or obtained.

The first local producer to supply Fresh Forage was the Boyce family farm and neighboring farms.  Sam and Andrew have also networked through the Ann Arbor Farmer’s Market to find their food.  Now, the conversation with producers are already moving from “Here is what we’ve got” to “What can we grow for your restaurant?

The benefit to consumers is only half of the equation.  Farmers will grow fresher, better foods than commercial grain crops if there is a waiting market to sell them.  “There is a huge benefit to the farmers who have a standing demand for their food,” explains Andrew.  “We are able to be a major outlet for farmers to sell their produce.  “They don’t have to spend the day at the farmer’s market which is a big cost in time for them.”

Andrew and Sam are high school friends who graduated from Chelsea in 2006.  They went their separate ways.  Andrew had a degree from U of M in chemical engineering but gravitated to the idea of starting his own business.  Sam had a degree from MSU in Interdisciplinary Studies but with the same aspirations as Andrew.   The two met up at a friend’s wedding and got into a conversation which revealed they both wanted to open a restaurant.  One thing led to another, as things always do, and they opened Fresh Forage.  Sam is the food guy.  Andrew is the business guy.  U of M and MSU aren’t always rivals.

All during my conversation with Andrew and Sam, I’m watching a constant stream of people come through the door.  “Business looks good,” I say.  “How did you get the word out so quickly?”

They look at each other, then at me.  There’s a pause.  “We don’t know,” Andrew finally says.  “People have just been showing up.  We guess word is just getting around.”

As I sit there, I’ve been watching people walk around with cups of green drink.  Sam guesses my thoughts.

“We got a good bunch of cilantro,” Sam says.  “I didn’t want this to go to waste, so I looked around at what else we had that I could use.  We had some Thai chili peppers.  So I ended up making a cilantro Thai chili lime-aid drink.”

I’m always looking to break out of the cycle of “same ol’, same ol’” so this sounded worth a try.  I figured it had to be good.  I mean, they must have taste-tested it, right?  I took a cup of it with me when I left.  I’m under no obligation at all to say it was wonderful, BUT IT WAS!  I’m still thinking about it and am going to stop in for another one today.  Fresh Forage also has kombucha … on tap.  I like kombucha.

Argentina Steak Bowl

For lunch I took their Argentina Steak Forage Bowl home with me.  This has chili-lime Deep roots Ranch sirloin steak, Boyce and Bowdish Farms fresh peppers and pico de gallo, avocado, and sweet potatoes served over white rice.  I ordered the smaller size and it was plenty.  It was delicious and left me light on my feet.

I’ll be returning to Fresh Forage and suggest it as a place when setting up meetings.

Fresh Forage location is 5060 Jackson Rd (east of Panera Bread, same side of the road in the old Mancino’s spot).

Here is the menu and you can order online.

You’ll love it.  Have fun!

BBQ Bowl
Thrive Bowl
Green Bowl

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