Tyler Mason has a passion for improving food insecurity and sustainability.
“I hate the feeling of being hungry and when I start thinking about the one-fifth of families in the U.S. that are experiencing food insecurity that speaks to me on a personal level,” the horticulturist says. “That’s a problem that a lot of developed countries are facing and there are things we can do that improve it.”
It was this passion that led this Indiana native to pursue a master’s degree at Colorado State University in agriculture with a focus in extension education along with initiating the “Plant a Row for the Hungry Campaign” at the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens.
Part of the American Garden Writers Association, “Plant a Row for the Hungry” seeks to establish community gardens across the nation that can be used to grow fresh produce for local food banks and homeless shelters. Mason’s local chapter includes 50 community gardens with plots of about 250 square feet. The vegetables are brought to the Cheyenne Salvation Army on Fridays and to the Comea House Shelter on Saturdays.
“We want to redirect food surplus and start sharing that with people with food insecurity,” Mason says.
In addition to his philanthropic efforts, Mason applied to the James Beard Foundation National Scholars Program in hopes of receiving funding for a participatory plant breeding program partnered with the Northern Organic Vegetable Improvement Collaborative (NOVIC). Mason was selected as one of 10 2017 scholarship recipients (awards give up to $20,000 to each individual), winning the Southwest regional title.
“I was really pleased when I was selected because, one, the scholarship will go directly to my tuition which will also help fund my project which I didn’t have funding for before and, two, the James Beard Foundation recognizes not only the quality of food, but also the sustainability,” he says.
Mason is currently pursuing a PhD at CSU, while heading the NOVIC-associated plant breeding program which incorporates multiple perspectives from growers, researchers, plant breeders, consumers and chefs.
“Our goal is to select crops that perform well, identify specific traits for why they perform well and backtrack them into new experience breeding lines,” he says. “… There’s a lot of excitement when you’re discovering new information and that information has a huge impact on local growers.”