From farm to front doorPublished 9:16pm Monday, August 8, 2011
It is a warm and humid Thursday morning and the air settles quietly around the Morris Estate in Niles.
It’s still morning, just a little after 10, and though Stephanie Layman, her twin sons, Austin and Dylan; daughter, Jessica; son, Matthew; and her niece, Caitlyn Cummins have been hard at work for hours — they’re just getting started.
Layman is owner of TYD Produce Delivery, which delivers fresh, locally grown produce to residents’ doors.
“We wanted to do something no one else was doing,” Layman said, speaking from inside the hub of her business’ operations: her home.
Layman lives in a renovated stable and barn located on the Morris Estate, and in the rear of her home, baskets and boxes of fruits and vegetables, tomatoes, green peppers, onions, zucchini, apples, cabbage and more fill a small room where they’re gathered and organized, nearly spilling over in big, round baskets.
TYD Produce Delivery began back in 2004, when Layman, her husband and her aunt were brainstorming various business ideas for when Layman’s aunt came to live on their farm.
“My husband had lived on the farm his whole life,” Layman said.
The idea to bring custom baskets of fresh, locally grown produce straight to the doors of customers throughout the area began with Layman bringing pints of various berries to friends.
Now, Layman and her family each have a role in the business. After her husband returns from purchasing product from a network of area farms, the fruits and vegetables are separated and Layman and her children, using a catalog of custom requests, build the baskets to customer spec.
“Everything is customized,” Layman said.
She flips through a binder filled with forms filled out by customers, which catalog what they like and what they don’t.
“If there’s something that they love, we try to give them extra of those things,” Layman said.
The baskets are filled to those specifications, standard and large sizes are available. TYD Produce Delivery runs weekly and biweekly deliveries through a 16-week season, beginning in late June and running through the beginning of October. Layman is currently offering a special half season price.
Since 2004, when she first started, Layman said a lot has come into focus to help TYD build to just under 100 customers throughout Berrien County, Cassopolis and Edwardsburg as well as into Granger and Mishawaka. Layman, along with a few helpers, delivers the baskets to customers directly.
“The process has evolved,” she said. “We’re more efficient.”
Coupled with the rise in interest in local and organic food — a consumer focus on knowing where their food comes from and the increase in Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) — Layman’s business seems to be filling a growing niche.
Originally from the east coast, Layman said she’d heard of CSAs back in the 1990s but “definitely the movement had not really started as it is now.”
TYD’s customer base ranges from the homebound, who are not easily able to get out to their local farm markets or area farms, to Chicago transients who love coming home to fresh, local food.
“They love the idea that when they get there, they’re going to have fresh fruits and vegetables,” Layman said.
In addition to providing local produce, Layman has also moved into offering the option of a premium basket that includes specialty items, showing her support for local businesses like Lavender Hill Farm in Niles, Country Bake Shop in South Bend and Niles chef Daysha Amster.
It’s been a slow, calculated growth, Layman said of the business.
“That was intentional,” she said. “Because we definitely wanted to grow at a rate we could handle.”
TYD has tried to stay comparable to grocery stores, Layman said. Fuel prices have definitely been a challenge for the business, but those are costs Layman said she hasn’t passed on to the customer.
“We’ve tried to stay steady,” she said, “because we know everyone is hurting in this economy.”
Layman just moved the business’ operations when they moved into their new home off the Morris Estate last year. And the family aspect of the business runs a close parallel with the local food movement.
“I think it’s crucial for people; I think it’s very essential that our kids understand where our food comes from,” she said.
Since she’s begun delivering produce to customers, Layman said some have even taken to the idea of starting a garden of their own.
“I absolutely encourage that,” Layman said. “I think it’s great. I see people taking more interest in where their food comes from.”
The future of CSAs and the focus of consumers on fresh, local food seems to have a bright future ahead. Locally speaking, the Niles Community Gardens initiative is showing its success through its bountiful crops and specialty, farm markets like the Niles Bensidoun French Market are drawing in crowds, introducing newcomers to the fresh, quality produce grown by neighboring farms.
Layman said that as for the future of TYD Produce Delivery, she’s hoping to develop the partnership with local businesses and continue bringing fresh food to the masses.
For more information on TYD Produce delivery or for pricing, visit www.tydproduce.com.