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a trip to sydney markets with harris farm

July 11, 2012

It was a little before 5:00am when I willed myself out of bed.

(No small task, mind you, as I’d scarcely been able to sleep for the excitement of what I was to do that morning).

A trip around the Sydney Markets with James Harris from Harris Farm Markets (it really is a family business). To meet the growers, the sellers, the buyers and (I was to find out) to get a first hand lesson on how exactly to cross a street at packing time without getting hit by a forklift driver.

I couldn’t really complain about the time though. When I arrived (just a little bit before 6am) I was greeted by a hub of activity.

Forklifts were flying around corners, delivering produce from the growers to the distributors. Semi trailers sat in neat, 45 degree angled rows being loaded with produce that had come in a little before 2am.

I am later told that the buyers had been in since at least 3am, that my arrival coincided with their first of many coffee breaks and that I’d probably missed the first lot of semis that had arrived, been loaded up and left to deliver produce to the stores.

Welcome to the Sydney Markets indeed!

Almost all of the fresh produce you see in your supermarkets, delis, local greengrocers (and Harris Farm stores) comes through the Sydney Markets. The markets themselves are split into a number of halls, each containing a large number of distributors, who specialise in certain kinds of produce – be it tropical fruits, root vegetables or a combination of specialty goods like asparagus and mushrooms.

We (being the compact clan of Alvin, Sireshan and myself) start our tour at the end of the production line, in the Harris Farm warehouse, where pallets are being packed for stores. A crate of dill is divided up and placed atop waiting cardboard boxes containing a bottom layer of potatoes and other root vegetables, followed by spinach greens and finally the more delicate herbs.

Each of the pallets sits underneath a sign with a suburb printed on it.

“That’s how the sorters know which store the goods are going to. Later they’ll get loaded up in semi-trailers or trucks, depending on the store, and get delivered. The first lot has already gone, so this lot will be the second daily delivery, arriving at about midday” explains James.

“Second daily delivery?” I ponder, almost aloud.

All is explained as we wander the produce halls.

“Harris Farm delivers fresh fruit and vegetables to its stores every day. Some of the more busy, local stores get two or three deliveries a day. So the produce that’s arriving is the same produce that arrived here at the markets on trucks overnight. We don’t store anything here in the warehouse, so it really is as fresh as you can get it.”

Even the cool room, which holds an assortment of berries, mushrooms and other delicacies, is emptied daily – its sole purpose being to keep the produce chilled between the distributors stores and the delivery trucks.

We’re wandering through Halls A to C.

“It’s pretty dead at this hour” explains James, as we notice the stallholders wandering around to chat with their neighbours “but that’s because it’s late in the day and this isn’t a particularly mad season. It’s crazy just before Christmas, no matter what time it is, because there’s so much demand for produce around that time of year.”

“Hey James!”

A voice rings out from in amongst crates of greenery.

“Check out my snow peas!”

A grin.

“I always buy my peas from this bloke here. I reckon they’re the best in the markets. Am I right?”

I leave them to discuss the weather and the produce and the size of Harris Farm’s order for the coming months and take a (careful) stroll along the length of the hall.

Most of the produce here is sourced from all over the world. Asparagus from Brazil (there’s virtually no locally produced asparagus in Australia between May and the end of July), cherries from America and boxes of beautifully streaked Thai purple eggplants.

With the help of Carlo, our tour guide (and perennial keeper of our safety – “Watch out! Forklift!” was a commonly heard cry by him that morning) we procure samples from his favourite date suppliers and murmur over hairy taro roots, dirt still clinging to the boxes.

We move on to Hall D, perpendicular to the sheds we’d been trawling.

“This is where we find the local produce”

It’s another enormous hall, but this time, open and with yellow lines painted on the floor to allocate stall space. Free of the constraints of, you know, walls, the forklifts are king and frequently travel backwards, spinning 270 degrees when turning corners, only to fly off in the direction of their next delivery.

We are introduced to the man who produces the bulk of the oranges grown and supplied in NSW.

“All of those oranges you see in 3kg nets? They’re most likely his.” says James.

He beams with pride. We try to get him to pose for a picture, but he declines.

“I grow oranges. I’m no model” he says, blushing. “My son will pose for you though.”

And pose he does, fairly leaping out of this pickup to do so.

“If only my brother was here – he’d be raring to get in the shot! We recently had a shoot down at the acreage for the Crave Sydney festival thing that’s coming up and he drove back down to make sure he was in the pictures!”

We trundle past chillis and cabbages, bok choy and brussel sprouts.

We giggle at the Asian greens growers gathered around the back of a flat bed truck playing cards and drinking tea from a thermos.

After disappearing briefly, Carlo returns to hand each of Alvin and I a 1kg bag of amazingly hot, tiny chillis, courtesy of his mate that runs one of the stores.

And all the while, James is checking the quality of produce, placing calls and checking demand.

“Oh my gosh! Look at those carrots!” exclaims Alvin.

“Mate!” exclaims the stallholder, and whilst the boys from Harris Farm stand and banter, I poke around a trestle table of heirloom carrots and wonder at wire baskets that hold more spinach than I would ever know what to do with.

(Being wholesale markets, they’re usually patronised by businesses including small greengrocers, restaurants and the like, as opposed to your average suburban household).

“Now these ones are called yellow carrots. Those ones are called finger fennel cos they’re about the size of your finger, and these here are round carrots.”

It’s a sensible naming system.

“No point giving them crazy artistic names. We’d never be able to remember them.” 

Fair point.

Our tour of the markets is coming to an end. The sun is well and truly up and the even the community co-op shoppers (including these two gorgeous nuns that we managed to spot just about everywhere we went) are loading their goods into vans and getting ready to depart before Hall D is emptied and transformed into Paddy’s Markets.

I’m allowed a brief visit to the Flower Markets where I agonise over a bunch of peonies (seeing them at $30 per half bunch later in the week confirms my idiocy at not buying them) and say goodbye to Alvin and James (who’s about to have his first meal of the day over a chat with his team of buyers).

Before we go (well, before we go to inhale some pizza and a well needed coffee at the cafe for our first meal of the day, not including the dates we ate) we pause by the banana sheds.

It’s here that all of Harris Farm’s produce first stops before heading to the sorting sheds that we saw right at the beginning of our tour.

Backwards, roundabout, tour of the markets complete, I drive home in the mid-morning traffic and tuck myself in for a well needed pre-midday nap.


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note: shez from onebitemore was invited along to the Sydney Markets as a guest of Harris Farm Markets.


  • #1
    July 11th, 2012

    Looks like a fun experience…I’d struggle to get up at 5am, let alone whatever time the rest of the buyers/sellers get there to do their trading. Yawn.

  • #2
    July 13th, 2012

    Beautiful photos! Oh, to live near a market house like that!

Shez