The experiences prepared him well for his next position in development at Land O’Lakes, where he managed projects worldwide. Eight years later, the International Potato Center hired Gerba to blend his grassroots and global experiences to better small communities using everyone’s favorite root.
Br. Boynton, now a vocation director for the Jesuits, says, “Mike discerned his vocation exactly in what I’d want to see. He used his lived experience and found what he loved doing with his lived experience and said, ‘I want to do more of that.’”
Today, the Gerbas live in Lima, Peru, with their three children. Recently, Michael and his team received the World Food Prize—“basically the Nobel Peace Prize for agricultural research”—for their work in bringing a Vitamin A-rich sweet potato to Sub-Saharan Africa. Severe deficiencies in the nutrient often lead to childhood blindness and death across the continent. The new crop could help save untold numbers of children.
Visiting a potato seed storage site in Ethiopia.
At first glance, a potato is a simple thing.
You plant it, it grows, and it feeds a community. The same is true for Gerba. Once a student on a mission trip, he has had experiences since then that span the globe with work, literally, at the grassroots level.
Yet a potato is a special thing, too. You may know the Idaho, or red-skinned, or sweet varieties. But the one that does the most good for others? A man named Michael Gerba.