Urban Till: Jolly Greenery Giant

November 18, 2013 at 7:33 am

Simply put, fresh is best. That’s the no-frills perspective at Urban Till, the burgeoning hydroponic herb farm blossoming on Chicago’s west side. By committing themselves to delivering pristine, fresh herbs on a constant basis to customers, cutting herbs the day of delivery, Urban Till has established itself as the preeminent herb purveyor for such restaurants as Takito Kitchen, Atwood Cafe, Autre Monde Cafe & Spirits, and Marion Street Cheese Market. The freshness is all well and good, but it would all be for not if it weren’t for flavor, and Urban Till produces some of the most flavorful greenery around. This stuff is so bracing and potent, you’ll wonder what you’ve been eating all your life, and why you’ve been wasting your time doing so.

(Urban Till in action. Photo: Urban Till)

Urban Till is the masterwork of Brock Leach, a man who went from working in a different business sector doing food distribution for McDonald’s to peddling pristine herbs. While working for McD’s, he saw a broken link in the supply chain, and he surmised ideas for how he could improve upon America’s food service. The quintessential factor was localizing production where there’s demand. As long as a great product is being made locally and customers are willing to pay a premium for quality, success can be had. With newfound grand ambitions to change and save the world, Leach set out to do it on his own, and Urban Till was born.

Urban Till is the rare hydroponic farm that employs its own corporate chef. That chef is Olga Masevich, and she serves as the liaison between Urban Till and restaurant and chef clients. She also spends a lot of time “in the field,” researching dining trends, eating in restaurants, amassing industry relationships, and so forth. The woman has a corporate and culinary background herself, with time spent working in kitchens at restaurants such as Daniel, Mott Street, and the Russian Tea Room. She knows restaurants, and she knows what kitchens need to produce good food. Urban Till is part of that process, and she shares Leach’s vision of changing the world through good business products.

Herbs from Urban Till are some of the most invigorating products you’ll ever eat. The vast library includes everything from hyssop, cilantro, and mint to carrot sprouts, lemon basil, and sage. Each one is absolutely packed with enough flavor to make your eyes water if you tear off too large a bite. This stuff is vigorous. It can all be chocked up to seed selection, a meticulous process that involves scouring the globe for the most wholesome, purest seeds, and fostering them at their west side farm to procure some of the finest herbs this side of Argentina’s mountain mint, which just so happens to be the mint that Urban Till harvests. By hand-sorting all their herbs, Urban Till ensures a high percentage of ready-to-eat/ready-to-garnish product, thus minimizing food waste and increasing value. And the fact that Urban Till is hydroponic allows them to supply chefs 365 days a year, a facet that chefs certainly appreciate. David Dworshak of Takito Kitchen, for instance, first fell under the Urban Till spell when he tasted their wares while working at Carnivale. Now that he’s at his own venture, he strives to let herbs shine on the plate, using Urban Till as his exclusive herb purveyor due to their reputable flavor, freshness, and accessibility.

In the pipeline, Urban Till is working on growing greens such as lettuce, cabbage, collards, and chards. It ain’t easy being green, but Urban Till sure makes it look as such.