Ashley Tyrner’s Vision Bears Fruit
Ashley Tyrner is founder and CEO of Farmbox Direct, which works with hundreds of farms to deliver fresh, natural, and organic produce to its 10,000-plus members.
Responsibilities: Sourcing fresh organic and natural produce, forming partnerships with farmers, working with shipping companies, and designing the produce boxes that customers receive.
Experience: Brand manager with fashion designer Cesar Galindo.
After I had my daughter, I was working 16- to 18-hour days in the New York fashion industry and found it difficult to find fresh fruits and vegetables. You could have a can of Coca-Cola delivered to you at 2 a.m., but you couldn’t get organic produce.
I didn’t have a logistics background when I started Farmbox Direct and I definitely didn’t have any idea what I was in for. But we have been able to pioneer shipping fresh produce to the customer’s door.
Shipping living, breathing produce is a logistical nightmare. For instance, we had to figure out how to mitigate ethylene (the gas given off by ripening fruit) in a way that was food-safe. We had to determine how to get the shipping box to maintain its temperature. We had to identify a food-safe way to eliminate moisture in the box. Even something as simple as an orange sitting next to strawberries can make or break a box during transit.
Initially, Farmbox Direct delivered only in New York City and Brooklyn. Then we expanded and shipped up and down the Eastern Seaboard, which was one day of transit.
Next, we configured the box to work for two days of transit. Then, we knew if we could get the box to last for three days of transit, we could have one warehouse in the Midwest, which we located in Kansas, and blanket the entire continental United States from there.
We tried more than 100 prototypes of the shipping box and it’s nothing short of a miracle that we figured out how to do it. You can’t just throw all the produce in a box because it won’t make it during transit. Our box is completely proprietary, down to where we put the onion, the grapefruit, and the orange.
We try to source locally first, but we’re also trying to eradicate a much bigger problem: the approximately 24 million Americans who live in urban or rural food deserts.
People in food deserts don’t have access to fresh fruits and vegetables. Maybe they don’t have a grocery store near them, or they can’t afford a vehicle to get to the store. Instead, they shop for food at a fast food chain, bodega, or convenience store.
In these food deserts, diet-related illnesses are rampant. Diabetes and cardiovascular disease can be eradicated if people get access to the right food.
I have found my passion: food, food policy, childhood nutrition, and eradicating food deserts.n
Ashley Tyrner Answers the Big Questions
1. What’s it like to take a business from start-up to national presence in five years?
I’ve learned that anything that comes across my desk is something no one else can handle. There’s no road map that teaches you to be a CEO, or how to grow a business to a national company. We grew so quickly that it was rough sometimes, but we’re in a good spot now.
2. If you had $1 million to start a new business or philanthropic venture, what would you do?
I’d put it toward my newest endeavor, Harlow’s Harvest, started with my daughter. We ship cooking kits built around STEM and nutrition with recipes and games for kids ages 4 to 15. The kits bring advocacy and education to healthy eating.
3. Words to live by?
There are little rhinos all over my house because rhinos can only charge forward. They can’t look backwards. You have to always charge forward.
4. Any advice you’d give your 18-year-old self?
Don’t get married so young, travel more, and think before hitting send. I used to be more short-fused when I started the company because there were so many problems to deal with. Now, I’m more seasoned. I know that at the end of the day, the world is still going to spin.