From Farm to Table, This Company Delivers Fresh Produce, and Is Giving Others Access. Get 20% Off Today.
Ashley Tyrner grew up on a soybean farm in Illinois, believing that eating farm-fresh produce was as natural as breathing fresh air. Things took an unexpected turn for her when she got pregnant nine years ago, split from her spouse, and found herself on public assistance, living partly on food stamps, trying to get by on a grocery budget of about $8 a day.
She moved to New York, found a job in high fashion, and tried to buy fresh organic produce for her toddler daughter—but then, some eight years ago, she realized she could get chips or soda readily around the clock, but not fresh or organic produce. The idea dawned on her when she went out to Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, and bought from a farmer there that she could bring fresh veggies to the city as a business, and deliver to her neighborhood city-dwellers. "We were living in a food desert, right there in the big city," she recalls. I realized I had the power to change that and offer fresh produce to those who wanted it."
Now Tyrner is expanding that access to those who need it, delivering about 2,000 boxes of fresh produce to those with chronic conditions, through a health-care company that supports the elderly and children in need. Her food empire is having a moment, but there were tears and doubt and moments when she never thought she would make it, along the way.
When the idea came to her in 2014, Tyrner quit her job, started FarmBox Direct and began to deliver produce from Pennsylvania farmers to Brooklyn and Manhattan families, driving it around to her earliest customers in her own car. Today, the company delivers over 10,000 boxes of fresh produce from farmers across the country in every state (except Hawaii, which does not allow imports of produce).
"I could never raise money but that turned out to be a good thing," she says, since it kept her operations lean and she could grow at her own pace. Now, Farmbox Direct has tens of millions in annual sales, and a contract with Medicaid and Medicare to make boxes of fresh produce available to those in need, including the elderly who can't get to the store and families that couldn't otherwise afford it.
Q. What made you quit a high-fashion job and go into the business of produce delivery with Farmbox?
A. There was a food desert. I would drive out to Lancaster, PA to farms, with my young daughter to get farm-fresh foods. And that is what made me think of this.
Q. What if I don't want only kale? Or I'm allergic to tomatoes? Can I choose what's in the box?
A. Farmbox lets you get what you want... You can make substitutes of up to five items. A box contains staples like apples and carrots and greens like kale. Brussel sprouts etc. But if you don't want beets or something you can make a change.
Q. Do you also help customers know what to cook? Are there recipes?
A. Yes. We add a recipe to the box. And people are writing saying I tried something for the first time. I saw the recipe in the box and you made me cook something I had never made before.
I get letters from elderly people who we deliver to through the Medicare program, as part of Vibra Health, and they say "I am homebound and have no relatives nearby and this food is my only food for half the month." Some people live far from a market or live alone. So that makes us feel good about what we're doing.
Q. So you are giving boxes to those in need? How does that work?
A. We deliver about 2,000 boxes through Vibra Health in Pennsylvania. If you have a chronic condition -- either a chronic illness or diet-related illness, you're eligible. We are in talks with Medicaid to get boxes in the hands of children to teach them to cook healthy food. In this country, 48 percent of children under 12 are considered obese and they need the life skill, to learn to cook veggies.
Farm box is not a meal kit, but I want to give people ideas so that when they do get a box with beets in it they do get an idea. The recipes are constantly changing, like how to roast beets.
We once shipped out gold beets and we had emails that said: These beets are not ripe. People did not know that there are different colors of beets. Education goes along with the box. This is so key.
Q. Delivering to the entire nation sounds pretty ambitious. How many employees do you have?
A. We only have a few employees. And since we use one distribution center in Kansas, from there we blanket the entire country in 1, 2 and 3-day free shipping. The only place we don't ship to is Hawaii because they don't allow produce from anywhere else to enter.
We have a ton of customers in NYC and Brooklyn, which is where we started the company. We are spread out over the whole country. Utah has one of the biggest food deserts in the country. It sounds strange but it is true. It's really all about the economy.
Q. How much is a box?
A. The price range is from $48 to $74, depending on if you pick an organic box, or non-organic box and the size of the box. It depends on what your family needs.
Since medicare is beefing up the delivery for the 65 and older, if you are in their program, it's free to the elderly... they pay us to deliver. We also have a code, Immune20 to get 20 percent off your first order.
Q. Given the current situation, this must be a big moment for food delivery.
A. I woke up on Saturday and all hell had broken loose. I could not believe the numbers of sign-ups we had overnight. And it was because people are in a panic because they can't get anything. Everything is sold out. There are people who my daughter goes to school with and they say "Can you please help us? We have no food."
Fresh produce is what matters most, for staying healthy during these trying times. People are starting to worry that this (crisis) is here to stay. The coronavirus is going to stick around. The curve may be a month out before we get to the bottom. We are keeping up with the demand. I added a shift to shipping to keep up with orders. This shift is taking people who would have been laid off and strategically repositioning them to a different shift and function to keep up with volume."
Since the beginning, we have been in the business of helping food nutrition insecurity —to make sure people in need have fresh fruits and vegetables.
Farmbox Direct is offering customers a discount of 20% off on their first delivery to ease the financial burden of getting fresh fruits and veggies. The discount code is "Immune20."