For years we reluctantly sourced the Sandy carrot and many of the coloured varieties from the market in Rungis, all the while searching for a grower with whom we could work direct and allow us to breach the gap of knowledge created by the wholesale markets.
Eventually our search led us to François, a grower who, at eight years old, spent his spare time looking through seed catalogues while his friends were watching cartoons. He dreamt of growing all the varieties in them. Forty years later, we’re helping François to turn the food system upside down. His dedication to varietal experimentation is not only protecting essential ecosystem biodiversity, he is making an immeasurable contribution to society by preserving unique flavours.
A BORN GROWER
At eighteen François set up his own business and started growing leeks, potatoes and carrots; staples that would go primarily into large wholesalers. But as time went on, François’ dream wasn’t matching up to reality. The market for varietal growth and experimentation he’d envisioned as a child was not materialising; the seed catalogues were replete with varieties and without customer interest he was barely growing a page’s worth.
By 28, François had turned the situation around. While lack of knowledge held him back from converting fields to organic, his varietal revolution was slowly gaining ground. François invited his wholesale clients to visit his rows of sand, introducing them to the different varieties he’d grown from seed. Little by little, these clients started to look beyond the staples and ordered François’ more unusual crops - Purple Haze Carrots, Salsify, Black Meat Radishes.
Fast forward a decade and three full-time people help François on his 19-hectares and his produce is found in some of the most influential kitchens in London and Paris.
FOUNDATIONS OF SAND
Sitting a few kilometres back from the beaches of Dunkirk, François’ sandy-silt, mineral-rich ground in Dunkirk is ideal for root vegetables. Each year he sows over 1.2 million seeds per hectare, directly seeded into the soil. The precision of the seeding process is very important in producing a better crop as it ensures plants have the necessary space to develop well. Beds are squared giving added height, as this allows the roots to grow longer, and reduces the potential problems as this also gives plants the needed space to develop in a healthy environment.
The soil retains just enough essential water without compressing the plants, producing tender, thin-skinned roots with a consistent density of nutrients. Good drainage allows him to harvest in a sequential manner as the roots sit perfectly in the soil, not losing any humidity until Francois is ready. Not only does the soil being sandy allow roots to grow unhindered and straighter than in denser, clayey or rocky soil, but it rich nutrient-base also lends sweetness and complexity.
Sandy & Heritage Carrots
Aug - Apr
François’ long, thin Carrots grow ramrod straight, tender in texture with thin skins. His carrots should never be peeled, as it’s in their skin that the greatest density of flavour and nutrients can be found. François picks every day, choosing to store the carrots in the ground rather than refrigerating them for months.
Nov - Apr
François’ labour-intensive method of growing is close to forcing, sowing the plants under steep mounds of native sandy-silt soil. Buried deep in the mineral-rich soil, the roots will emerge as exceptionally bright, round artichokes with an intensely concentrated flavour.
Black Meat Radishes
Sept - Dec
Fine, silver-grained white flesh with pungent aroma and horseradish heat. Heat is most established in the skins, as with François’ carrots. Grown alongside Blue and Red Meat radishes, each variety selected for its unique traits.