College’s first Young Alumni Award goes to local entrepreneur

May 5, 2011
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Fran Free, Oh Baby Foods, Inc.

Howell Medders, Division of Agriculture Communications

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Fran Free, “mother and founder” of Oh Baby Foods, peels carrots for use in a recipe. Information on products, including purees for four stages of development are at
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FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Michael E. Vayda, dean of Dale Bumpers College of Agricultural, Food and Life Sciences at the University of Arkansas, announced that Fran B. Free, founder of Oh Baby Foods, Inc., in Fayetteville, is the first recipient of the new DBCAFLS Alumni Society Young Alumni Award.

Free said Oh Baby Foods uses regionally raised ingredients for its purees. She said she wrote the business plan while working on her master’s degree and takes pride in bragging on her alma mater by pointing out that her degree started working for her before she even received it. She received a bachelor’s degree with a major in environmental, soil, and water science in 2001 and a master’s degree in agricultural economics in 2008.

“Fran is a great example to our students of how their education can give them the tools to pursue their dreams and make a difference in their community,” Vayda said. “All of our majors stress experiential learning and problem solving.”

“I come from a long line of good cooks who know good food,” Free writes on her Web site. “My grandmothers' southern faire is not to be forgotten. Several women in my family have had restaurants and catering businesses and have written cookbooks. Making wholesome (and somewhat fancy) baby foods is a natural fit for me.”

Free’s inspiration for the business was her daughter, Lucy, now 2 1/2 years old. “I researched the jarred and frozen baby food options available to us and decided that, while they may be safe and contain many of the nutritive aspects our babies need, they’re just not good enough.“

Free represents the fourth generation from her family's farm in Lincoln County.