Meet Tyler Heppell, a 4th generation potato farmer from British Columbia. Tyler is rocketing to stardom, producing educational farming content on TikTok. We caught up with him to pick his brains on the power of the internet and how it can be a force for good in the Agricultural community.
Tyler grew up in Surrey, BC, as one of three siblings from a strong farming background. He proudly represents over a hundred years of potato farming heritage passed down the Heppell family tree. Tyler remembers being expected to work after school and on Saturdays as a child. After working on the farm from age 5 to 18, he decided to fly the nest and figure out what his passions were in life. “At university, I thought I didn’t want to return to the farm… I decided to go into Sales, and after 4 years of giving that a go, I had a change of heart.”
Tyler called it a 'now or never moment' as he described, considering whether it was right to leave Sales and go back to the farm. "I was in between jobs, and at the time, my dad was starting to take a step back from running the farm. So I thought to myself, why not give it a shot." It was time for Heppell potatoes to build a management team and innovate. Tyler saw an opportunity to expand on Heppell potatoes' already impressive empire by innovating and iterating its traditional processes. "I gave myself an ultimatum, one year to sink or swim. I am now ten months in, and I am hooked!"
Ten months into his trial year, Tyler admits that there is still so much for him to learn. "It's amazing how much I've learned in such a short period of time. B.C. is one of the most expensive places to farm in the world, and so it is a case of innovate, or you won't be able to pay your bills. We are always looking for new pieces of machinery and technology that can cut down on random laboursome jobs, ultimately saving time. Time is the key factor, and we want to find a way to use it as efficiently as possible." Aside from this, Tyler also commented on the importance of diversifying products in as many ways as possible. What better product to do this with than the humble potato! In the past, the company has kept its eyes peeled for value add products and has since added a popular Canadian potato chip company to its repertoire!
Beyond the traditional profit-making aspects of Agriculture, Tyler has also shed light on the issue of food waste. "I realized during the potato sorting process that we were getting tonnes of irregular-looking produce rejected from supermarkets purely for their looks as opposed to their value, and I wanted to do something to change this narrative. So through TikTok, I got the word out about our trial initiative, Ugly Potato Day." The farm has given away misshaped produce and donated any money earned to Charity in an effort to change the narrative around wonky produce. At their most recent Ugly Potato Day, over 900 people turned up. Over $2000 was raised and donated to local food banks in the area, just from putting the word out on TikTok and live streaming the event to over 16,000 people.
An interesting thing about Tyler’s success online is his willingness to adapt to the changing tides of social media. The boom of TikTok in recent years has represented a new wave of social media users who crave the more intimate and unfiltered nature of random people speaking directly into their phone cameras at any particular moment in their day. Tyler notes that “TikTok was initially a way for me to reach out to people in the local area to bring their attention to the fact that prime agricultural land was going to be taken by the government so that it could be converted into industrial land. I used TikTok as a way to gain more signatures on a petition to stop this process.” Over time this changed, and Tyler began to use the platform to educate people on the importance of agriculture by showcasing his day-to-day life. “By getting people to see and understand first hand what we do on the farm and how much work it takes just to get that potato or squash into the supermarkets, it means people appreciate where their food is from and bridges the disconnect between farm and table.”
On top of this, Tyler isn't afraid to provide some much needed humour around the farm alongside all the educational videos. As a result his marshmallow farming series has amassed views of over 6.2 million views. “In my opinion, TikTok is the most intimate form of social media… I always get a good feel of what people are thinking and what they want just from scrolling through the comments of my videos and so I try to cater to this and feed people’s curiosity. So many amazing things have come out of my TikTok account and a prime example of this was when I posted a video explaining how 15% of our squash is thrown out because of their wonky nature and we got hundreds of comments with ideas of how to donate them or adapt them for a different purpose. As a result, we were able to connect with a dog food manufacturer and now that 15% of squash is sold at cost instead of going to waste.”
Tyler has big plans for the future of Heppell’s potatoes, and his excitement to continue his family legacy was easy to see. “ I hope to continue to honor my family’s generational legacy while also bringing a new spin on it myself. I can’t wait to continue to learn and grow, and ultimately, I know I made the right decision to come back and manage the farm.”
Credits Jackie Dives
It has become a common thread amongst the younger farmers we interview that most wanted to pursue careers away from their farming heritage. Later in life, they learned to see the beauty of their roots! Agriculture is such an essential part of our world’s global economy and our survival. So we at CropSafe feel precisely the same way! It was a pleasure chatting with Tyler, and we can’t wait to see what comes next!
If you would like to learn more about Tyler and the farm, you can follow him on TikTok here and Instagram here.