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Partnership in Western Michigan

Partnership in Western Michigan
United States

Impact Area

  • Communities
  • Community engagement
  • Compliance
  • Environmental sustainability
  • Gender balance & diversity
  • Individuals & Families
  • Nutrition
  • Planet
  • Rural development
  • Water
Sep 18, 2012, updated September 2012

The apple does not fall far from the tree in the Lister family. For more than 50 years, the Listers have tended fruit orchards in the fertile, rolling plains of rural western Michigan, supplying a variety of fresh apples, peaches, pears, and plums to Gerber. (Gerber is part of the Nestlé family of health and wellness companies.)

Art Lister, Sr. began the family’s partnership with Gerber in the late 1950s. His son, Art Lister, Jr., has carried on the family tradition, working with Gerber for more than 16 years to transform his family’s 800-acre farm into a regional model of best practices in food safety, resource conservation, and environmental sustainability.

Gerber research scientist Todd DeKryger has partnered with Art Lister, Jr., during this time, helping him test new fruit varieties, evaluate their natural resistance to disease, and establish new standards for water conservation and field sanitation. He has also helped Lister implement new food security measures.

Lister and DeKryger started working together in the early 1990s, when Lister was evaluating the potential of new peach and plum varieties. DeKryger began visiting the farm on an almost weekly basis as they analyzed sugar content or tested fruit pits to ensure that they wouldn’t disintegrate during processing. They also focused on introducing disease-resistant fruit varieties to minimize the farm’s environmental footprint while increasing cost-efficiency.

“If you have a disease-resistant variety, you don’t need to use the pest controls that other varieties require,” Lister notes. “It also minimizes the labour, fuel, and chemical costs required to apply pesticides to fruit, and it reduces soil compaction caused by farm machinery.”

Whenever Lister encounters an issue that could impact the safety and the quality of his crop, he knows that DeKryger is only a phone call away.

“We talk about different fruit varieties and how to ensure that Art’s decisions line up with Gerber’s standards,” says DeKryger. “We run through scenarios that develop during the growing season, and I try to provide Art with answers and strategies. We save the detailed, long-term conversations for the winter, after the harvest.”

The Lister farm is situated just 50 miles from Gerber’s processing plant in Fremont, Michigan, and it occupies a key role among the more than 200 Michigan fruit farms that supply product to Gerber within that small radius. Working closely with the Listers, Gerber has identified best practices that it has disseminated to its broad network of suppliers, enhancing the overall quality of its fresh fruit while helping Michigan farmers adopt world-class production standards.

“It’s a very sincere partnership,” says Lister. “Our proximity to Fremont is an important measure of our success and advantage. It also allows us to deliver fresh fruit to Gerber quickly and at a lower cost to consumers. And it helps us adopt new practices quickly and efficiently.”