She Lived On Food Stamps. Now This CEO Is On A Mission.

Ashley Tyrner’s course took a sharp detour at the age of 26 when her husband abandoned her while she was pregnant with their daughter.

“I was sitting in my gynecologist’s office, sixteen weeks pregnant, waiting to find out if I was having a boy or girl, and my now ex-husband texted me to say that he wasn’t going to join me at the doctor’s appointment and that our relationship was over. To this day, I remember what I was wearing, where in the office I was sitting…it was the moment I knew that I was having this child alone and that I needed to change a lot in my life.”

Ashley says her biggest struggle was that she had no work history or college education so she had to create her own path and figure out her life – not just for herself, but also for her unborn daughter. “Before I got pregnant, I had a pretty nice life in Malibu, California, and that literally changed overnight,” she says. For one, she had to go on government assistance (using food stamps), forcing her to resign from a lifetime of eating healthy, fresh food, for a weekly ration of whatever was available to her. One might assume that a person so accustomed to homegrown food would recoil from the reality of food stamps, but Ashley proved to be an example of how one can navigate such a challenge with resourcefulness and a little intuition. “I had to rely on finding a farmers market to get high-quality fruits and veggies – which I ultimately found – but since the market was held only once a week, it was never enough to last the full seven days. It was hard.” She also recognizes the unlikelihood that others on the same food plan share her level of success, which in part came from her living in year-round warm weather, but also because of her innate knowledge of food.

“I honestly don’t know how many people can survive, let alone eat healthfully on food stamps.”

Once her daughter was born, Ashley moved to New York, got a job in fashion, and was able to get off of government assistance. She says that while going from being financially stable to food stamps was very humbling, it made her strong and independent. “I happen to like myself better today than the person I was seven years ago.”  

Needing a change from fashion brand management, Ashley decided to start Farmbox Direct because she had always been very passionate about home grown food and making sure that those who don’t have it can get it. She launched the company by selling her ownership percentage of the fashion brands she managed, took on a few angel investors, and found a very hungry intern who is now a full-time employee.

“I have built the company to where we are profitable, with very little outside funding, but that has meant I’ve needed to wear a lot of different hats, and everyone who works for me has to be able to handle more than one job.”

Ashley grew to enjoy all the benefits of being raised on local produce from the garden, which her mom would then can for the winter. Living a true farm-to-table upbringing shaped her long-term values, ultimately carving out her path to providing others with what she had taken for granted growing up. The Farmbox Direct mission is to bring great quality produce to anyone’s door, year round, and eradicate the food desert problem across America. Ashley explains that food deserts are areas of the country that are void of fresh food, and not surprisingly, they are usually in impoverished areas. This is due to a lack of healthy food providers, grocery stores and farmer’s markets within a mile’s distance – and sometimes much further.

“People are literally are surviving off fast food and food that’s found in gas stations in these areas.” There are 24 million Americans in both rural and urban communities that live in a food desert.”

For this reason, Farmbox Direct  delivers via FedEx, whereas most farm to table services only use a delivery service. “This way, I can ship anywhere in the country that FedEx serves so that we can have a massive customer reach,” she says. “We pioneered shipping produce to your door – which no one has done – so we are allowing a population of people who wouldn’t receive fresh farm produce to receive all of this healthy food for their family.” She says she has many customers in Alaska, military bases, and even colleges.

Ashley says she sees a shift in how people are eating, citing First Lady Michelle Obama has a driving force behind that truth with her “Let’s Move” program, which aims to erase childhood obesity due to the food desert problem. Ashley thinks that the slow but steady movement to replace fast food with salad bars will not only educate a new generation of kids but hopefully their parents as well.

“As a society I think we need to slow down and get back to cooking.” There are far too many fast food restaurants out there that make it too easy to just drive through, and we need to make time to appreciate the family meals again.”

And a service like Farmbox Direct is certainly adding to that much-needed conversation.
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