What did you feed your baby? While you rack your brain, Andrea Herrygers can pinpoint the field her seven-month-old’s puree came from. It’s a party trick that makes other moms do a double take, and then she lets them in on her secret: She’s a farmer and a procurement specialist for Gerber. This means that she acts as a liaison between farms and the Gerber team, ensuring that the fruits and vegetables that get harvested for baby food are nutritious and delicious for infants.
Here, Herrygers shares the journey from seed to high chair to your baby’s messy, adorable mouth.
You know how a baby will sometimes mash his or her lips together and refuse anything beyond a bite? It’s not (just) a baby being a baby. Even the same food we enjoy, like applesauce, can taste differently to a baby’s ultra-sensitive palate depending on what apples are used and how long they spent ripening on the tree. That’s why agricultural experts like Herrygers work alongside farmers to choose seeds and varieties that are proven to yield tasty produce. Not only do the seeds and varieties need to produce veggies and fruits that will satisfy a picky-yet-ravenous infant, but they also need to grow well in specific types of soil.
“Different regions have a sandier ground, or a heavier ground, so we’ll consider that when we choose seeds and crop varieties,” explains Herrygers. It’s also important that plants and trees are hearty enough to produce fruits and vegetables that can ripen to peak flavor.
Not all soil is created equal, especially when it comes to growing produce for the pint-size set. That’s why, according to Herrygers, the soil used for crops is rich in nutrients like nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus — all of which help plants grow.
To keep soils nutrient rich, farmers will employ what’s called crop rotation on their fields. Some fields earmarked for Gerber baby food may only have one type of crop planted every four years. This methodology helps ensure the soil is rich enough to support each crop.
A pre-made puree can seem commercial, but for Gerber, it all begins with the family. Gerber partners with family farms, some of which have been Gerber partners for over fifty years. Gerber team members often visit the fields to assess crops, troubleshoot weather conditions and talk strategy for future seasons. It’s a hands-on job, and Herrygers will often find herself in rain boots and wet-weather gear performing due diligence. “Our primary goal is to sustainably feed babies,” notes Herrygers. “So it’s a hard job, but it’s a fun job, too.”
To maintain consistency and foster an environment of innovation, the company holds annual Grower’s Meetings, which is when employees, farm partners and agricultural experts have discussions and roundtables on sustainability and best practices. It takes a village when it comes to your baby — and the same is true of your baby’s food, too.
For babies, just a few days of ripening can make all the difference between “yuck” and “yum” — and can help save your sanity at mealtime in the process. Food made with not-quite-ripened produce may taste bitter to babies, while produce harvested at peak ripeness can be much more palatable to developing taste buds. That’s why Gerber asks their growers to have fruit hang on the branch longer, even if the crop is technically “ready” to harvest. “We ask our growers to do things that can be a bit difficult or out of the box, because what tastes great to us may not be quite right for tiny tummies,” explains Herrygers.
Because 100% of fruits and veggies for baby food purees can be traced to the fields they are grown on, Gerber can be mindful of its supply chain. Once produce is harvested, it is protected from the elements and monitored for spoilage in special temperature-controlled trucks until the produce reaches Gerber and the baby food making begins.
“We take a holistic view of sustainability so that parents don’t have to worry, because they know we’ve got them covered.”
The manufacturing process may seem mysterious, but Herrygers notes that it’s really a higher-tech version of what you would whip up in your own kitchen. Once fruits and veggies come to Gerber factories, they are cleaned and peeled before they are blended into “cold purees” to maintain flavor. These purees are then cooked to seal in nutritional profiles and lock in flavor. Purees are individually packaged and shipped to supermarkets.
Ultimately, where Gerber’s food comes from is just one part of the sustainability equation. Packaging and production are other big areas of focus. “We take a holistic view of sustainability so that parents don’t have to worry, because they know we’ve got them covered,” explains Herrygers.
To that end, Gerber has made a commitment to achieve zero waste to landfill in all factories by the end of 2020 and is on track to achieve that goal by the end of 2020. Operational facility upgrades have put Gerber on track to reduce carbon emissions and water use by 35% in 2020. Gerber has also reduced plastic packaging volume and has committed to making 100% of its packaging reusable or recyclable by 2025.
So while purees may seem like a pretty simple mealtime solution, there is actually a whole lot of care to ensure it gets to that messy mouth. After all, when you’ve got a VIB — that’s a very important baby — every little decision that goes into that jar or pouch makes a big difference. It’s a difference your baby can taste, and you’ll be able to see.
To support the farm to high chair journey, we have committed to three pillars of sustainability for all our products. These include responsible agriculture, responsible packaging, and a responsible supply chain, which includes specific farming practices for all fruits and veggies grown for Gerber purees. These practices include best-in-class crop rotation practices, choosing the right seeds and varieties for vibrant, naturally sweet fruits and veggies, and being able to trace 100% of produce to the farms where they were grown.
This article was paid for by Gerber and co-created by RYOT Studio. HuffPost editorial staff did not participate in the creation of this content.