Farmbox Direct Founder Ashley Tyrner Shares How She Used Food Stamps as a Stepping Stone to Success
When Ashley Tyrner split from her husband, she was pregnant with her daughter and turned to food stamps and government assistance to get herself back on her feet. With that initial support, she was able to land a job in New York City and eventually started Farmbox Direct, a delivery service that brings fresh fruit and vegetables straight to consumers’ doors anywhere in the United States.
“Had I not been able to have the government assistance, I would not be where I am today. Most definitely,” Tyrner tells PEOPLE.
Now, Tyrner is speaking out against proposed cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — often called by its former name, food stamps — by President Donald Trump’s administration. Under the new proposed regulations, over 3 million people will lose their benefits.
The Department of Agriculture recently announced that the new guidelines would limit the use of “broad based categorial eligibility” —a system, adopted by more than 40 states, that makes some low-income people automatically eligible for food stamps based on their receipt of other forms of federal aid. USDA officials say the change would “fix a loophole” that makes households eligible for food stamps “when they clearly don’t need it” and save $2.5 billion annually.
Tyrner said she was “blown away” by the proposed changes.
“These are not people who haven’t worked for five years on government assistance,” she says. “These are people who are working, paying taxes and trying to get themselves out of the hole they are in and get themselves off government assistance.”
The Farmbox Direct founder adds that under the proposal, there is no motivation for recipients to better their situation.
“It’s going to make people feel like, ‘Why work? Why try to do anything better with my life? Why try to get myself out of this rut if I’m not going to be able to have insurance or food stamps? They’re just going to stop my benefits as soon as I make what my threshold is.’ “
Sam Kass, the former White House chef to President Barack Obama, helped open Tyrner’s eyes to how her company could eradicate the “food desert,” or areas across the country with limited access to affordable and nutritious food — and her home delivery service turned into a social mission.
“Twenty-four million Americans live in a food desert, and half of that number is considered low income,” she says. “In those areas, diet-related illness is rampant — cardiovascular disease, diabetes. One thing I’ve learned in my policy work is that no matter if you’re Republican or Democratic, you want lower taxes. If we can provide better food to these people that have no accessibility to fruits and vegetables, their diet related illnesses can be cured.”
Tyrner’s goal is for SNAP benefits to be allowed for use online so food can be delivered to users’ doors, noting that only a few pilot tests have been approved so far.
“There’s such a common misconception of everyone on government assistance is just not working, just wanting to game the system.” she says. “The majority of people on government assistance are working a couple jobs just to make ends meet.”