Taking the helm of the Red Hills Small Farm Alliance

by Tallahassee Table
Tyler Turkle becomes the organization’s first full-time executive director

When Tyler Turkle was a boy growing up in Ohio, his grandparents owned a small farm with an apple orchard and a garden where they grew vegetables to eat, sell and share with neighbors.

“I spent a lot of time in that orchard, and in that garden,” said Tyler, an artist, filmmaker, educator and director of non-profits. “My grandmother was the one who worked the land. As we grew up, we were kind of her assistants. It helped us understand the challenges of small farmers.”

Tyler Turkle is a longtime Tallahassee resident with a background in arts, filmmaking and non-profits. Photo provided.

Tyler has come full circle, in a way. He has returned to the world of farming as the new, first full-time executive director of the Red Hills Small Farm Alliance.

About the alliance

The not-for-profit organization is made up of 120 small farmers, ranchers and artisan food producers located within a 100-mile radius of Tallahassee.

The Alliance was formed in 2010 by four women in agriculture in Tallahassee: Louise Divine, Katie Harris, Malini Ram and Mary Russ. Until now, it has been staffed by volunteers.

Katie Harris, co-owner of Full Earth Farm, left, and Louise Divine, co-owner of Turkey Hill Farm, are two of the original founders of the Red Hills Small Farm Alliance. Photo provided

“They have done a remarkable job,” Tyler said.  “I’m looking to provide assistance to something that runs pretty well.”

Louise, who has watched the Alliance grow from a seed of an idea to a broader grassroots effort, is among those applauding their new executive director. 

The next level

“Our hope is that Tyler is the one to take us to the next level, whatever that is,” said Louise, co-owner of Turkey Hill Farm with her husband, Herman Holley. “We want the community to recognize the Alliance for what it is – a real boon to the agricultural economy and a resource for farmers, especially those starting out, and an integral part of the community.”  

Originally from Ohio, Tyler has been a longtime resident of Tallahassee with an extensive personal and professional experience that has led him to this next step in his career.  

Tyler was the executive director of the Foundation for Leon County schools for eight years, the executive director of Habitat for Humanity of the Big Bend, in Florida and then Sonoma County, California. He later served as manager for Habitat US and Canada in Americus, Ga.

Creative calling

Tyler taught art, photography and filmmaking at Florida State University as a visiting lecturer, assistant professor and artist-in-residence. His paintings and sculptures have been exhibited in museums and galleries throughout the United States and Europe and his films have appeared in national and international film festivals.

In an article in the California newspaper, The Press Democrat, writer John Beck noted that Tyler had “documented Southern eccentrics in Northern Florida, from hard-living rebel novelist Harry Crews to diehard football fans and the politics of a rattlesnake roundup — all featured in his short film documentaries.”

Tyler has never stopped being an educator and in recent years, he was on the faculty at Fort Braden Middle School in Tallahassee.

“Tyler brings new energy,” said Katie Harris, a founder of the Red Hills Small Farm Alliance and co-owner of Full Earth Farm with husband Aaron Suko. “Tyler has a lot of really good ideas, he’s well-connected and very creative. I’m eager to see how he approaches the role with those skills.”

Hyper-local food

Tyler is assuming this new role at a time when there’s an increased interest in local and hyper-local food. During the pandemic, residents turned to locally farmed goods, especially through the online market, which boomed. When supermarket shelves were short of greens, the public turned to our regional farmers. 

Members are confident that Tyler will help the alliance continue to build on that connection.

“I’m very excited for Red Hills Small Farm Alliance to transition to a full time professional executive director,” said Cari Roth, who was the interim executive director of the Alliance for three years and the chairman of the board – all as a volunteer while working full-time.

“With Tyler, we not only get an experienced nonprofit manager, but also someone with deep roots in this community that shares our passion for promoting local agriculture,” said Cari, a longtime government affairs professional and environmental attorney.

Promoting the mission

Among Tyler’s goals would be promoting the mission of the Alliance, which is: “to support the economic stability of local farms, offer farmer training/education and help expand food access.” 

The Tomato Feastival is one of the achievements of the Red Hills Small Farm Alliance. Photo / Tallahassee Table

Among its efforts, the Alliance has launched events such as the Tomato Feastival and Seven Days of Local Delights, which have helped promote local farmers, spread awareness of community resources and educate through workshops and classes. A major achievement has been the creation of the Red Hills Online Market, which connects the public with the people who grow food in the region.

Online market

“In the beginning we only had five or six farmers and our customers were family and friends who helped get it started,” Katie said. “We wanted people to have more access to local food and our colleagues wanted a reliable, convenient market to sell their stuff. That was a big impetus for the online market.

“We hoped it would grow but we never expected a pandemic to be in the mix,” she said.

Like other groups, the online market pivoted to accommodate a bigger demand, Katie said.

Many farmers who are members of the Alliance continue to sell their goods at the in-person markets but the online market has become a desirable option for both growers and customers.

Through the online market, patrons can find local products such as fresh produce, meats, bread, baked goods – even cooked entrees, coffee, plants and citrus. One of the benefits is that customers can just get a small order, such as a few sweet potatoes, or a larger farm share. 

“It’s extraordinary that they’ve been able to do this,” Tyler said. “Volunteers have developed it into a powerhouse.”

‘Visionary approach’

Tyler’s “visionary approach to the position” has impressed Alliance members who are looking to the future, said board chairman Christina Lynch.

“The next level is really for us to expand our impact in the community and see more collaboration with like-minded and like-hearted organizations and community members,” she said.

A strategic plan is in the process, Tyler said.

“I’ve got enough experience now that I feel comfortable in helping them get to where they want to be,” he said. “I feel pretty lucky.”

For information about our farmers’ markets, including details about signing up for the Red Hills Online Market, please visit our directory at https://www.tallahasseetable.com/tallahassees-farmers-markets/

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Cay Curtis November 8, 2023 - 10:25 am

I would love to see more
prepared foods offered. Rocky Soils offers soup at the Farmers Market and had delicious food on the Farm Tour. I would live to see more of this available on the Online Market.

Tallahassee Table November 8, 2023 - 3:39 pm

Hi Cay,
I’m happy for your interest in the online market. There are quite a few prepared foods on the online market. You’ll find soups from Martin’s Harvest, Rocky Soil Family Farm, Artistic Confections and others; quiche from Artistic Confections and Martin’s Harvest, mac ‘n cheese from Artistic Confections. There’s also spaetzle (Rocky Soil) plus lasagna and prepared salads. I hope you’ll find a lot of other items that you’ll like online or at the market.


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