An Early Trip to Eastern Market, with Steven from Western Market
(Crystal A. Proxmire)
At four in the morning the streets of Detroit are dark and quiet, until you reach the bright, busy area of Eastern Market where dozens of local farmers bring their fresh produce and flowers each day during the growing and harvesting seasons. Under giant pavilions these local growers sell direct from the farm to distributers, grocery stores and markets, and food service providers.
Since 1983, the owners of Western Market at 447 W. 9 Mile in Ferndale, have been going to Eastern Market to get the freshest local produce available. They also shop at The Detroit Produce Terminal, where local distributers compete with fruits and vegetables shipped in from all over the county, and even from around the world.
For years it was owner Steve Selvaggio who would wake long before dawn to trek downtown and pick out the day’s produce. Now it’s his son Steven, who grew up mastering the family business, who does the running around and negotiating, while Steve drives the big truck to get the food back home to Ferndale.
“I think a lot of people don’t realize how much work it takes to get fresh produce into the store. It’s not like other grocery items where you just tell them how much you want and they give it to you,” says Steven. “The quality varies so greatly that you really need to look at what you’re buying. The big stores will order their food in large amounts and they’ll just take whatever their distributers bring them. But we have a reputation for having the best stuff, and that takes time. You need to know what you’re doing.”
Steven wakes up at 3 am so he can be on the road by 4. He rides down about an hour ahead of his dad so that he can go around to all the vendors and make sure they have everything that he’s already put orders in for. Often the farmers run out of the product he needs, or the price and/or quality is not up to Western Market standards. That’s why he goes around to all the different farms, looking to fill in his orders.
At both Eastern Market and The Produce Terminal, each farm has their own area – anything from a small table with a couple of items to large multi-freezer/fridge units that store thousands of pounds of product. Many of the local farms specialize in just a few crops, so they have the same things on hand each time . For example Leitz Farms carries honeyrock melons, strawberries cucumbers and several types of tomato. Rudich Farms has green beans, pole beans, corn, wax beans peppers and cabbage. Ruhlic has squash, peppers and watermelons. And Iott Ranch Orchard (www.tomatoes.com) specializes in tomatoes.
Steven talks to all the farm owners, and tries to spread out his purchases so that Western Market is supporting everyone. “It makes sense because we want local farmers all to succeed,” he said. “Plus if there is ever a shortage the farmers tend to sell the product they have to the people they normally do business with.”
Steven grew up in a world where recognizing quality fruits and vegetables is a day-to-day necessity. Fruits in particular can vary greatly from farmer to farmer. And even within distributorships the products are not the same. For example, one vendor had six different crops of cantaloupe, each one with a slightly different flavor. Steven carries his knife and slices into them for a taste before selecting the ones he thinks could be best for his customers.
Sometimes buying local can mean spending a little more money, but it’s worth it to support the economy here in Michigan. It is also better for the environment when food doesn’t travel such long distances to make it to the table.
Once all of the orders are in, Steven’s dad Steve arrives with the Western Market truck and backs into a bay, where he waits for someone to come around with the order. The produce is stacked onto pallets, loaded up and taken back to the store where some go right to the shelves and others are put in the cooler to either be packaged, or stored. Though items rarely sit longer than a day or two.
Once in the store, hard-working employees constantly stock the shelves and check to make sure that quality is maintained. Customers come from all around the Detroit area, because they know they can get consistently high-quality products, hand selected with expertise and love.
For more information about Western Market, go to www.westernmarket.net.