“We wanted to make a product that was good on all fronts. It’s good for your baby, it’s good for local farmers who really care about growing food the right way, and it’s good for the Earth.” – Lauren Utvich, founder, Farm to Baby
Farm to Baby. Need we say more? Could there be any more simple and brilliant concept to introduce to the farm-to-table-dining, farmers market-shopping, baby-popping paradise of Brooklyn than baby food made with super-fresh, totally natural, seasonal ingredients grown on small local farms, and delivered to your door?
Greenpointers Lauren Utvitch and Marshall Reaves debuted Farm to Baby, their subscription-based baby food delivery service in Greenpoint and Williamsburg last week. They’ll be expanding to cover a much bigger bite of the borough, including Fort Greene, Park Slope, Carroll Gardens and everything in between, by the end of the month. We met up with Lauren to learn more.
So Lauren, tell us about the Farm to Baby. Let’s start with the food.
Well, for now, they’re all vegetable varieties, and each variety is made from a single vegetable. Our White Beet puree is only white beets. We did a tasting at the McCarren Park Greenmarket a few weeks ago, and people couldn’t get over the white beets. They kept asking, “What’s in this!?” And we said, “White beets. Just white beets!” People couldn’t believe it.
It’s amazing how good something as simple as a fresh, unadulterated beet can be. Fresh vegetables grown naturally in rich soil are really perfect just the way they are. I’m constantly amazed when I’m in the kitchen making these purees. I made a parsnip puree last week that just blew my mind!
My neighbor downstairs has an eight month old boy. He’s sort of been our main focus group as we’ve been testing recipes. When I tasted the parsnip puree I had to run downstairs. I knocked on the door and said, “You’ve got to try this!” The baby had already gone to sleep, so his mom and I ate it ourselves. My neighbor is a restaurant cook too, and she couldn’t believe how good is was. We ate it all!
I had the same reaction with the Brussles sprouts. I couldn’t get over how smooth and silky they were once I’d pureed them. Brussels sprouts aren’t something you think of kids really falling in love with, but they’re delicious.
These are like gateway foods. If you give your baby things like Brussels sprouts and beets, you’re going to be in good shape when they become toddlers. There are numerous studies that show that the broader your child’s diet from an early age, the more willing they’ll be to try new foods in the future. And the more diverse the diet, assuming it includes lots of fresh, naturally grown produce, the more nutritious and healthy it is. These studies show that the longer you wait to introduce these kinds of healthy foods, the harder it becomes to get them to accept them.
And there’s sometimes a kind of assumption for a lot of new parents that babies won’t like pure vegetables like Brussels sprouts. But that’s just not true – they’re really delicious.
Was it the plan going in to just do single-ingredient purees?
We started off with the notion that our baby food should just be the food itself. While we were researching baby food, we found that commercially produced baby foods tend to have a ton of ingredients other than the featured food itself. That was kind of startling. So we knew we wanted our purees to be as pure as possible. The surprising thing for me was when we started developing recipes, just how delicious they were on their own.
We only feature vegetable varieties right now, but we are working on developing meat varieties too. We’re working with local farmers producing grass-fed, pastured animals and free-range chicken. We’ll be rolling those out in the coming months.
So how did you come up with the idea to do this? Seems like such an obviously great idea it’s hard to believe no one is already doing it.
There was definitely an a-ha moment. I’ve been interested in food for a long time. I started studying nutrition year ago in Florida, and I actually moved to New York to continue my studies. I went to the Institute for Integrative Nutrition and became a holistic health counselor. At some point I decided that if I was going to spend all this time helping people to eat better, to understand food and nutirion, I had to go to culinary school. So I did – I went to the French Culinary Institute, then worked as a cook at a couple of Farm-to-Table restaurants, and then worked for a few local farms.
About a year ago I started thinking about baby food. I realized that aside from making your own baby food at home, which is a terrific thing to do, there weren’t really any good options out there for feeding your baby fresh, seasonal, nutritious food grown on local farms.
We’re in Brooklyn – there are all these people interested in food. We’re at this sort of nexus of this food movement, but there’s nothing out there for babies. We live in a crazy environment here in New York City. It’s not easy being a parent here. A lot of parents both work full time. It can be hard to find the time to shop at your farmers market and make your own baby food at home. So we thought that making baby food with the best possible seasonal ingredients would be a great way help to busy parents…and their babies.
So it’s not just organic baby food – you’re sourcing everything from local farms?
That’s really what’s driving this – we wanted to make a product that was good on all fronts. It’s good for your baby, it’s good for local farmers who really care about growing food the right way, and it’s good for the Earth.
With the farms we’re working with, we feel like our food is better than ‘organic.’ The idea of a government certification is great, but much more than having a label conferred by a government agency, we think that knowing your farmer personally is a much better way to ensure the food you’re getting and feeding to your family is wholesome, and was grown well by people who have the best intentions and a goal of producing beautiful food while taking care of the Earth and making it a better place so when your babies grow up they have a beautiful planet to live on.
To that end, none of our farmers use any kinds of harmful chemicals, pesticides or herbicides. We think that’s pretty obviously really important when you’re making baby food. So while the farmers we work with aren’t certified organic by the USDA, we’re totally committed to working only with farmers whose missions are aligned with ours.
So why not just work with certified organic farmers? I know there are a lot of local farms who aren’t certified, but say they’re ‘practicing organic’ or ‘beyond organic.’ Why not just take the doubt out of it and work with a certified organic farm?
I think that a lot of the work we have to do lies in explaining just that.
It takes a lot of resources to be certified organic by the U.S.D.A. It takes a lot of time, paperwork, and money. A lot of the small farms in our region just don’t have the economic or human resources to keep up with the paperwork and fees required to be certified. The process is much more geared towards larger factory-style farms who grow on a much larger scale.
So if you want to call your produce ‘organic,’ you can’t legally do so unless you pay for inspections and file all the paperwork. You could be a small farmer who never uses any kind of chemical pesticides or herbicides, but you can’t call your food ‘organic’ unless you can cover the expenses of the paperwork and the inspections.
It’s not that these farms don’t want to be transparent, or that they have something to hide. It’s not because they aren’t abiding by the standards set forth in the U.S.D.A. organic program. It’s often a matter of simply not being able to afford it, and frankly for a lot of these farmers it’s also a matter of deciding to opt out of a program that has by and large perverted the true spirit of the organic movement. The ‘organic’ label has in a lot of cases been co-opted by large agribusinesses whose only motivation is to sell as much product as they can. The U.S.D.A.’s mission is to promote and advocate for agriculture in our country, but as often happens, it’s the big corporate operators who tend to make the rules and who can afford to play the game.
We didn’t want to exclude small farmers who we know are doing things the right way and are working hard to make a difference, to grow the highest-quality, best tasting, most nutritious produce – to do right by the planet – just because they couldn’t afford to be certified or have chosen not to for ethical reasons. We actually want to seek out and support just those types of farmers.
In order for them to do the good work they do, we need to support them. We wanted to be another conduit for them to get their beautiful produce to customers.
So tell us about some of the farms you’re working with.
I have worked at the Greenmarkets before so I was personally acquainted with a number of farmers who do excellent work. One of the farms we’re sourcing from is Rogowski Farms. Cheryl Rogowski is the first farmer ever to win a MacArthur Foundation Genius Grant, which I think says a lot about how important the work she’s doing is. She’s a fourth generation farmer, growing in the black dirt region of Orange County, upstate. Park of what makes her vegetables so amazingly good is the incredibly rich soil she’s growing in. And the other part – the secret ingredient – is her dedication to the land. Her produce is certified ‘Naturally Grown,’ which is a sort of grassroots alternative to U.S.D.A. organic certification designed for small farmers who distribute their produce through local channels.
We’re also working with Glebocki Farms, and they’ve been great. They’re growing some special purple carrots for us this year. It’s easy to get babies to fall in love with carrots, and the purple carrot puree is absolutely gorgeous.
We’re also working with Fishkill Farms, and Gorzynski Ornery Farm upstate, Garden of Eve organic Farm on Long Island, and Tree-Licious Orchards in New Jersey. They’re all really wonderful farmers doing excellent work.
Are you making the food each week? How fresh is it?
From the time our produce is harvested on the farm to the time we deliver it to our customers, it’s a matter of a couple of days at most. We pick up our produce from our farmers, go directly to the kitchen, make the food right away, and deliver it that day. We do that twice a week. So each time we deliver the food as been prepared that day.
It’s not a shelf-stable product. It’s not a canned product. It’s fresh food.
It’s funny – when was the last time you went to the store and bought a can of green beans? We don’t eat like that anymore, so it’s kind of strange and funny that we still feed our babies that way.
So how does it work? How do people get Farm to Baby baby food?
We launched in North Brooklyn last week, and at the end of the month we’ll be expanding to South Brooklyn – Park Slope, Fort Greene, Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens and those areas. We hope to be in Manhattan by the end of the spring.
It’s like a CSA or subscription service. A full share is eight ten ounce jars weekly. A half share is four. We deliver them to your home or office, or even to a day care facility.
The baby food is packaged in jars that are totally free of plastics of any kind. When we deliver the new batch of baby food each week, we’ll take your empty jars back and sterilize them for reuse.
And everything will be labeled. Each week you’ll be able to see what’s fresh and in season, and from which farm each ingredient comes from. So everything is seasonal. Why can’t babies eat seasonally too? Eating seasonally is more exciting for everyone. If grownups don’t want to eat sweet potatoes every day, why would a baby? They like variety too!
To learn more about Farm to Baby or to sign up, check out their website.