Market day is an early start. 2am wake-up for a 3am meet up with Chris Ennis in Brunswick. Chris is the main fruit & veg buyer at CERES and he’s offered to take me along on one his bi (sometimes tri) weekly visits to Melbourne Market.
The streets are refreshingly empty and the morning mild as we make our way down to West Melbourne. When we arrrive at Footscray Road we line up at the gates with other trucks from Fruit & Veg shops around Melbourne. There’s already a buzz of activity inside the markets. The complex includes the Fruit & Veg, Flower & Seafood markets and most stock is delivered overnight ready for the buyers who come in the morning.
As the gates open the procession of trucks and vans make their way in and enter the chaos of the market. I’m told that this is a “quiet” morning but to my eyes the place is teaming with activity. There’s a sort of organised chaos that goes on – forklifts whipping around, trucks being parked, trolleys pushed through gaps – almost like being in a big city in China or India. As we park the truck and enter the market I’m taken aback by the activity but soon learn to slip into the flow of traffic as we walk around.
Chris goes and visits some suppliers, checking on orders that he’s placed the previous days and organising for produce to be loaded on the CERES truck. Some days can take longer than others. Certain fruit or veg can be unavailable and Chris has to source from other suppliers at the market but today everything’s here. It gives us a chance to walk around and talk to some suppliers. I have a chat with Joe, an organic grower from Hastings and regular supplier to CERES. He’s brought apples, tomatoes and corn to market today though he’s just started planting his winter crops like broccoli back at the farm. We talk about the changing season, the difficulties in finding reliable labour come harvest time, the long days at market and the pending move to Epping.
The move is a hot topic at the market and comes up in most of the conversations I have that morning. The government is currently building a new complex in Epping, around 35km from the current site via Citylink. Most aren’t looking forward to relocating, nor having to travel the extra distance, but accept that the decision is out of their hands. I later do some research online and find out that the market in it’s various manifestations has moved twice in the past (originally in the CBD, than to the Queen Vic, than out to West Melbourne). Interestingly, the MMA website states that there was “significant controversy” when it moved from the Queen Vic to Footscray Road, “with many believing the market would fail because it was too far away.” Similar concerns arise today but there isn’t time to dwell on the unchangeable – there’s work to do.
I find Chris again and we pick up some tomatoes from Joe, and capsicums and mushrooms from other suppliers. We mainly stick to the cluster of organic and biodynamic suppliers in one corner of the market – birds of a feather flock together – but later I walk around the entire site visiting several of the coffee shops along the way. I’m amazed by the sheer amount of produce as we walk around. The market itself is massive – think of an inside space the size of 3-4 football grounds – and everyday enormous volumes of fruit & veg go through the place to all the independent fruit & veg shops around Melbourne (I’m told Coles and Woolies have their own Distribution Centres and so aren’t often seen at the market). I enjoy a brief respite when I duck over to the flower market. No forklifts or motorised vehicles allowed during trading hours. There’s even some classical music playing as I walk around and look at the array of cut flowers and potted indoor plants destined for florists around the city.
I meet up with Chris again and we head back to the truck to start loading up. The sun is starting to peek and there’s a beautiful orange glow over the city. We back the truck out and a forklift loads several pallets of produce all destined for Fair Food and the CERES cafe. As we hit the road the market is noticeably more quiet than when we arrived – the nocturnal workers must have all gone home. We head back to CERES as the morning traffic starts bubbling onto the road. As most are probably waking up to start their day, we arrive back in Brunswick and Chris drops me off before heading for the Fair Food warehouse. Exhausted, I enter the house and get down to some important business – breakfast.