Boxes, crates and bags full of fresh fruit and vegetables are flying before my eyes. It’s early Saturday morning in the Market Hall in Derby and Rob Corden, a well-known greengrocer in the Midlands, is setting up his stall for a busy trading day. I learn from him later that he woke up that morning at 2:50am to go to the regional wholesale market to select the freshest foods for his customers. This made me realise how little I know of his trade and so I decided to find out more…
I learn that he is one of the few greengrocers who gets fully involved in the selection process of his products. Many others just phone their order through without examining the food. Rob doesn’t want to compromise the quality and freshness of his fruit and vegetables. It’s too important for him.
Rob comes from a family of greengrocers. His grandfather was a greengrocer and his father is too. Despite being educated to be an engineer, in his early thirties he decided to take over his father’s business. He’d been observing his dad since he was 5 so in his thirties he was more than well-prepared for the trade. Now he is also introducing his son to the art. It’s a family business and the warmth and family-like atmosphere is easily felt. I take my little boy there every week and he loves to observe the hustle and bustle of the market.
Those people in the market in the middle of Derby are great teachers to our children because they love what they are doing, because they are happy about their products and passionate about their work and that means that they live their lives well.
When I talk to Rob he tells me that he loves what he’s doing. You sense it from him: he knows his stuff, he’s informed. He says it’s because over the years he’s never stopped learning. There is always something to discover about food and there is always something to discover about people. Their tastes and preferences change. There are different trends and fads in the food business. There are new laws and new regulations. There are weather fluctuations that affect the quality and prices. There’s a lot to think of. There’s a lot to plan for.
When we visit the market Rob advises us what to try and how to cook it. He also tells us stories of the past and present and eagerly listens to ours because he believes that this is what buying in the market is about… about following each other’s trials and tribulations, about creating bonds within the same city, about sharing and exchanging slices of life within its community. It’s about having a very wholesome conversation face to face with different people… and talking over fruit and vegetables is just so easy… there’s no ice to break… no conventions to follow… just a banana to peel or a crispy apple to bite into.