The moon casts a white haze over crates of bulb onion stems standing tall like marsh grasses. Yellow and green summer squash are displayed in perfect geometries. The well-trod ground of Detroit’s Eastern Market smells of damp and green, of things organic and sustaining.
2 a.m., and Fabrizio Casini has begun his day.
“Morning!” he calls, striding past open truckbeds holding stacks of wet wooden crates carrying produce picked in the last day or two. “How are you?”
Seven truck drivers wait amid loud echoes of lifts moving and hauling. They will load farm-fresh produce to fill each Hiller’s Market before the sun rises.
Fab opens a box of Michigan blueberries and pops one into his mouth, nods, orders hundreds. Palms a peach from the first summer harvest. Shakes his head, takes a bite, spits it into the darkness. “Not ready.”
Trucks stocked, the next day’s orders in, Fab wheels his way to the Produce Terminal, a concrete and metal building erected in three months in 1929. The floor is 12 inches thick. His black tie with red chile peppers bounces as he walks.
Trucks wait for loading with peaches the color of a sunrise, glistening dark cherries with a pop of sweetness, icy-crisp grapes.
Fab inspects stacks of Tuscan melons ordered direct from the farm. Perfect roundness in his big hands.
It’s after 4 o’clock by the time Fab has visited every one of the ten distributors in the building. Each offering a slightly different selection, a community of after-hours produce purveyance.
Finally, he sits at a desk with seven order forms, one for each store, checks and double-checks, before driving to each store to oversee the display and arrangement of the day’s purchases.
In a year, an estimated $400 million of produce moves through the Produce Terminal to end up on your table. Trucks arrive from California in three days. Consumers don’t have to wait for the right season to receive ripe produce. It is a consumer’s delight, this global market. Tamarind pods. Cactus pear. Edible flowers. The expected and the exotic.
Every morning, the Hiller’s buyers are the first to foot these familiar paths. We choose the best quality and flavor, stepping inside ice-cold coolers to confirm that each pallet contains the same high-standard freshness of the first fruits chosen.
Nothing worth having comes easy. We at Hiller’s live by the Scottish proverb, “He that would eat the Fruit must climb the Tree.” Come eat with us…