Five Questions With: Tyler Young

Tyler Young is co-owner of Young Family Farm, a 300-acre property on West Main Road in Little Compton. He manages the farm’s wholesale operation while his wife, Karla, also a co-owner, manages the farm’s retail stand and pick-your-own offerings.

Farming is a profession that has been in Young’s family for generations. Prior to creating Young Family Farm, he worked with his grandfather and uncle at nearby Ferolbink Farm raising potatoes. Both Tyler and Karla are graduates of the University of Minnesota Agriculture Business School.

PBN: In almost 12 years, the Young Family Farm has donated the equivalent of more than 1.1 million meals to the Rhode Island Community Food Bank. Why do you prioritize such philanthropy so highly?

YOUNG: The way I look at it, farmers don’t have a lot of money in the bank and so to give back, we work with food. You hear about the number of children in need of food in Rhode Island, 1 in 5 children having only one meal or less a day, [and think] how do you run a society like that?

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Giving back to our communities is the right thing to do. When a society features people who support one another, we all benefit. And it’s important to add that other growers are active as well. As a whole, the agriculture community does a great job in supporting the food banks on local and state levels. Farmers are a valuable part of society.

PBN: What types of produce are most common in your donations to the food bank?

YOUNG: Potatoes are the crop we harvest the most. Our farm, which began with a strawberry stand in 1997, now features 100 acres of potatoes. In addition to donating the culls, or seconds, we give a lot of turnips and winter squash. We start working with the food bank in September and they pick up six pallets of produce at a time.

The farm is 300 acres, and so we also grow 50 acres of sweet corn and rows of other vegetables, including kale, Swiss chard, peppers and pumpkins – to name just a few – alongside vibrant orchards of pears, peaches, apples and nectarines. We donate a wide variety of produce on top of our daily work.

I run the farm’s wholesale operation, a business that provides fresh produce to a dozen regional Stop & Shop stores, a Shaw’s supermarket in Middletown, several stores in Cape Cod and other small businesses throughout New England. In addition, the farm delivers potatoes to Boston for repacking and Johnston for peeling and processing.

PBN: Farming is an age-old profession, but how do you stay relevant with the advent of new technology and crop breeds?

YOUNG: Farming has been in my family for generations, and I can tell you that while the passion, hard work and lifestyle are all the same, the profession is constantly evolving – whether it’s technology or people’s diets. My grandfather never ate kale a day in his life and now everyone wants it. And you look at the chemistries used by farmers now and they’ve become so much safer and so much more environmentally friendly. Toxicity levels aren’t there.

The technologies are unbelievable. A lot of the computers we use are on tractors, equipment and sprayers. They’re accurate; there’s no waste. We’re constantly educating ourselves and learning new things. In addition, there has been a food movement, which has progressed to a more plant- and protein-based diet. For example, the white potato is now [less popular]. Now, we’re raising blue potatoes, yellow potatoes and striped potatoes. I truly believe that the standard, old sit-down-and-eat white potato, meat and peas has gone by. People want color, diversity and change – and a colorful plate.

PBN: What is your advice to other farms or manufacturers who may have the ability to donate, as your family and farm do, but have not yet made the plunge?

YOUNG: It’s OK to think creatively. Donations don’t need to be money. At Young Family Farm, we donate our seconds, excess or slightly flawed produce. It’s fresh, delicious and healthy produce we don’t want to see go to waste. Giving back is good citizenship and good business.

PBN: What is the single largest hurdle to agriculture in the 21st century?

YOUNG: There’s a lot of concern regarding too much regulation of agriculture. When it comes to the Food Safety Modernization Act, the idea was good, but we already have agriculture practices in this state, which all of the farmers are on board with, but this has gone too far. It seems like you can’t laugh, sneeze or cry without doing something wrong.

I truly believe that this type of over-regulation is not necessarily going to make our food safer, it’s going to make our food system more insecure. When you over-regulate a small-margin business, you chance putting them out of business. Once you’ve lost your sovereignty to feed yourselves, you’ve lost a nation.

Emily Gowdey-Backus is a staff writer for PBN. You can follow her on Twitter @FlashGowdey or contact her via email, gowdey-backus@pbn.com.

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