Founder of produce distributor Farmbox Direct shares rags-to-radishes story ahead of national expansion
Ashley Tyrner, who was once on food stamps, is now looking to expand her New York-based company nationally. Farmbox Direct offers USDA organic, seasonal produce straight to customers' doors.
Life is peachy keen for Ashley Tyrner these days.
The 30-year-old's Farmbox Direct, an organic produce delivery service based on the Upper West Side, is in the midst of a national expansion.
She's now looking at Series A funding, but only four years ago Tryner was on food stamps.
Her road to riches started on a corn and soybean farm in Illinois. She skipped college, got married and moved to Malibu, Calif. Her marriage later fell apart.
"We split up when I was 2½ months pregnant and he completely cut me off," Tyrner says. "I went to live with my mom at 26, and I ended up on government assistance."
After her daughter was born, connections led her to the Mexican-American fashion designer Cesar Galindo. She ended up moving to New York with a baby and little cash. It was a good bet - she ended up Galindo's brand manager.
Her daughter, Harlow, now 3½, gave her the idea for Farmbox Direct, which Tyrner launched in March after a year of planning.
"My daughter is like a self-proclaimed vegan," Tyrner says with a laugh. "Since I am a farmer's daughter I knew the difference between produce and pesticides and things like that. I said I want her to have the best food available."
As a working mom, she says she also knew finding fresh organic product in New York was tough.
Farmbox Direct delivers boxes of 100% USDA certified organic, seasonal and pesticide-free produce to customers' doors. It's one of a handful of local companies cashing in on the growing organic food industry — a recent study by the Organic Trade Association said the industry hs surpassed $30 billion in sales and is growing about 10% year-by-year.
Initially, Tyrner made deliveries within the city herself, but now the produce is shipped via FedEx Perishable Shipping up and down the East Coast.
Tyrner has seven employees packing the peaches and bananas and squash or whatever else is in season out of a warehouse in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.
She also has help in her office, located in the same apartment building where she lives.
"Packing is easy, operations are not," she says. "This is completely beyond the days of being on the combine behind my dad. I had absolute zero idea logistically what goes into getting someone's produce into someone's door."
While she buys locally - including from farmers in Upstate New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania - as much as possible, Tyrner says she's had to make concessions.
"New Yorkers are boisterous about their bananas. They want organic bananas and don't care if they come from Peru," she explains.
While her focus these days is food, she says fashion will always be part of her life.
"I love fashion. I'm a typical girl. I'm not the farmer's daughter in overalls or something."
Here are some additional New York area door-to-door organic produce purveyors.
-Farmbox Direct customers can choose three box sizes for weekly or bi-weekly delivery, from $36.95 for a small box with enough produce for three to four meals. farmboxdirect.com
-Next Door Organics, based in Brooklyn, has memberships for $20 to $50 per week. You can pick up or have the produce delivered. nextdoorganics.com
-Urban Organic, also based in Brooklyn, delivers organic produce and groceries on a weekly basis. A value produce box is priced at $34.99. urbanorganic.com
-Long Island City-based Go Organic NYC gives you a choice of picking your own box contents. Produce boxes are priced from $35. goorganicnyc.com