By Eileen Weber
We all want what’s best for our children, especially when they’re teeny-weeny. But what if you just can’t find the time to make your own baby food? There’s a solution for that: Garden Fresh Baby.
Founded by Marna Altman, a Westport stay-at-home mother of two, this not quite 12-month old business is booming. Why? It’s completely organic and locally sourced from farms all around the Northeast—mainly Urban Oaks in New Britain, which is the same farm that The Whelk and Le Farm use for their menus. Even better, everything is made in small batches by hand. How’s that for home cooking?
And, it’s not just baby food. What started out as a great way to feed her kids—and hopefully everyone else’s—has turned into a hot commodity for adults and college students as well. Her granola and granola bars are scarfed up in stockpiles at Farmer’s Markets in Westport, New Haven, Monroe, and coming this spring in New Canaan. Adults love her hot cereals, muffins, and biscotti. (Her granolas are completely nut-free.)
“I don’t sell as much baby food as I thought I would,” said Altman. “The customers I have are not all people with babies because the products are delicious, healthy, and fresh.”
Altman was a teacher in New York and then moved to Connecticut when she started a family. Making baby food for her little ones felt satisfying. But she realized none of her friends were making it and, frankly, wanted her supply. They often purchased store-bought brands that had a list of additives a mile long. She thought there was definitely a market for something better.
Now, she works at night out of a rented catering kitchen in Stamford. (Her product is organic but does not have the USDA organic stamp because she couldn’t find a certified organic kitchen to work in.) She thoroughly cleans her space before she starts to make sure there’s no cross-contamination of any foods the catering company has used during the day. She dreads the thought of anyone having an allergic reaction to her products.
But, farmer’s markets are not the only place Altman has been marketing her product line. She hopes they will be featured on store shelves very soon. You can find her at pop-up shops and other events that host tastings. Although at this point, she’s been doing so many of them lately that she feels “evented out.”
“We’re starting to get a little brand recognition,” she said, as a result of all the events she has attended. “I have so many people come up to me and say, ‘Oh, you’re the baby food lady!’”
You can order directly on her web site, but she’s a little fickle about shipping for environmental reasons. When she ships, she tends to do so in bulk. Altman works hard to get you her items from farm to product within a 3-day window. From production to shelf, you’ve got the freshest item you could possibly have without making it yourself.
But while plenty of parents buy baby foods, there are a lot of moms who make their own and still buy Altman’s baby food. Why? To freeze, of course! It’s nice to have on hand if, or when, you run out.
All her products are vegetarian. But even if you’re not, that’s not a problem. Altman made the point that it’s easy to take her foods and add lean protein. Make a side dish of any one of her purees, her quinoa mac and cheese, or even her minestrone and just add chopped grilled chicken. Dinner is a snap!
Using farm fresh produce is not the only ingredient in her foods. She also uses Doc’s Maple Syrup, Andrew’s Honey, farm fresh Connecticut eggs, and milk from a farm in Ridgefield. Her butter is from Kate’s Homemade Butter of Maine and her grains are from Wild Hive.
She has thoughts of expanding and eventually selling off the business. (Ideally, she would like to spend more time with her kids.) She has spoken with preschools and nursing homes about using many of her foods—a great way for kids of all ages to eat something healthy rather than mass-produced.
“There are a lot of different directions we can go in the future,” she said with a wry smile.
If you’d like to purchase some of Altman’s yummy creations, cases of 6 bags for each product are available for wholesale and she offers a 30% discount for retailers. For individual shoppers, her biscotti, hot cereals, and granola are all $5.50 per bag. Purees are $6.50 as are some other meal items like the mac n cheese and the minestrone. Muffins are $2.00.
Visit her web site at www.gardenfreshbaby.com or check out her Facebook page. Marna Altman can be reached at 203-295-4GFB or email@example.com. Or stop by and pick up her items at one of her farmer’s market pit stops near you.