By Emily Williams
If the first year of marriage is the hardest and starting your own business is like riding a roller coaster, combining the two milestones could seem as bad an idea as chewing tobacco on a tilt-a-whirl á la the opening scene of “The Sandlot.”
The opposite has been the case for Will and Hayley DeShazo of Cahaba Heights, who have spent a large portion of these first nine months of their marriage creating Till, a food delivery service that embraces their shared love of local produce.
“We are still in the honeymoon phase, but we are pretty good business partners, too,” Will said.
Till is an online marketplace that the DeShazos created to give people a more convenient way to purchase local produce from Alabama farmers.
“Think of it as a literal online farmers market,” Will said.
Through the website, usetill.com, paid members can access online shops for each participating farmer and have the produce delivered to their doorstep or available at an easily accessible pick-up location.
“You can shop raspberries at this farm, peaches at this farm, lettuces at that farm and add all of it into your cart with your Till account,” Will said.
Through Till, the DeShazos hope to give everyone easy access to local produce during the week without worrying whether you got to the farmers market early enough.
Love of great food has been a constant throughout Will and Hayley’s relationship.
“When we first started dating, Will was just finishing a job at Hot & Hot Fish Club,” Hayley said. “So, he was really into the culinary scene and would always cook for me on our dates.”
The couple fell into a routine of getting to the farmers market early on Saturday mornings to buy ingredients to cook for dinner that night.
“One of the first times I cooked for you I made that local pasta with Bare Naked Noodles, clams with linguini,” Will said to Hayley. “That was a great meal.”
Through their do-it-yourself dinner dates, Hayley fell in love with local ingredients. For Will, a love of food and locally sourced ingredients was a way of life when he was growing up.
“My dad always gardened, and seasonal eating was important for us at home,” Will said.
Not only has the food been something he loves, there’s also the community aspect to cooking and sharing a meal.
In fact, Will said, some of the best times in life are spent around a meal. He cited a few examples, including Thanksgivings and birthdays (because birthday cake counts).
It is also a common occurrence at the DeShazo home to have friends over for dinner and conversation around the table.
“We definitely like having friends over and sitting around the table,” Hayley said. “That’s where some of the best ideas come from. That’s actually how we came up with Till.”
The couple first thought of the concept for the company while having brunch with Will’s father and his wife and discussing the local ingredients on the plate.
For Farmers and Customers
While discussing the business idea, the couple identified an opportunity for both farmers and consumers.
Will realized that many local farmers don’t have a wide variety of options to reach out to and make connections with new customers, beyond participating in farmers markets.
“So, what Till does is highlight those farmers and introduce them to a whole other market, maybe people who have never tried local food before,” he said.
There are many reasons it can be difficult to get to the farmers market regularly, Will said, from having a disability to having to wrangle the kids together to simply not wanting to brave the humid heat of a sunny Saturday morning in July.
For Till, travel is a non-issue, and customers will find the same prices in the farmer’s online shops that they would on the market table.
“We are able to save you money because we work directly with the farmers,” Will said. “We don’t have to fight for shelf space like the grocery stores do, you are getting it straight from the source here and it shows in the price.
Through Till, the DeShazos also wanted to make a point to give back, with a mission to make it easier to eat healthy.
If it saves enough time for someone, Will said, maybe they won’t choose to stop at the drive-thru for dinner.
The site will also provide access for customers to donate produce to underserved people in Alabama. For every purchase over $35, Till will donate a meal to a Birmingham food pantry.
According to the Alabama Food Bank Association, one in every six people in the nation struggle with hunger, and the state of Alabama ranks among the highest in the country, with 19.2 percent of the population, or an estimated 919,670 individuals, suffering from food insecurity.
“What we have the ability to do is give back to those people in Birmingham and shed a light on that truth that exists in our state,” Hayley said.
Fresh in Season
Till’s online market sales will begin this spring, featuring an initial six farmers with more on the way.
Will first reached out to farmers that his father, a frequenter of the Tuscaloosa River Market when he lived in the city, knew well.
After calling a few of them, Will said the word spread and he began receiving calls and emails from farmers rather than sending them.
With the help of their farmers and their own research, the couple has spent a lot of time educating themselves on the food-growing process and produce distinctions, from the difference between organic and certified organic to the effect that growing a food hydroponically has on its season.
“Sometimes heirloom tomatoes can be sooner if they are hydroponically grown or if they are grown within greenhouses,” Will said. “That’s been the biggest eye-opener for me.”
Each season, the DeShazos plan to provide a downloadable guide on their website that gives customers a general breakdown of what is in season, some of their top picks and more.
“Greens are really great right now,” Will said.
“Especially the hydroponically-grown ones that we showcased on Till,” Hayley added. “You’ll be able to get some great lettuces year-round.”
Other great purchases in local produce available now include broccoli and root vegetables, such as beets, radishes and carrots.
According to Will, creating content for the website has been a great excuse to spend a lot of time creating great meals and sharing the recipes online.
“I think we always find ourselves talking about doing new things, but this is something that we are both passionate about, and I love being able to just be creative together and work towards something,” Hayley said.
For more information, visit usetill.com