When I was young, my parents had a green grocer in Ilford, London. That’s a fruit shop in Australian.
My sister, brother and I would spend before and after school in the shop, playing, picking fruit and veg and eating our fill, or at least until we were told to stop.
I remember my dad would stack the fruit beautifully amongst multi coloured paper and my mum would hand write all the signs in beautiful type, big enough for everyone to see.
When I was 10 years old, in the summer holidays, my dad would stick me outside with a display of all the summer fruit, you know, peaches, apricots, and cherries. He was a great marketer my dad. He understood the impact a cute 10 year old in pigtails could have on his customer base.
It wasn’t a self-serve grocer, you were served. You stood in line, and no one minded standing in line. You’d chat to the person next to you. It was a great time to create community.
So because it wasn’t self-serve, dad would set me up with a pair of scales and a register. I’d weigh the fruit, add up the cost in my head because I didn’t have a calculator and the registers didn’t add up for you.
I’d put the fruit in a brown paper bag – we didn’t have plastic bags – and I would do the ‘paper bag swing’, which I would practice by watching my parents.
If you didn’t get the paper bag swing right, it kind of went askew, the bag would rip and fruit would fall out. It could be a real mess, especially with soft summer fruit.
Anyway, I’d hand the bags to the customers, they’d take them, put them in the shopping bags they had brought with them, and smile at me and off they’d go.
This wasn’t that long ago. It wasn’t that long ago when we would bring our own shopping bags and have brown paper bags in shops. It wasn’t that long ago when we would go to the shops to chat and meet our neighbours.
When we moved to Australia in the early 1980’s, my dad bought a fruit shop in Lidcombe near the station.
It was a whole different ball game here. We had to get used to self-serve, having less interaction with our customers and using plastic bags.
But my parents being my parents were still able to create community and connection with their customers and suppliers. My dad still stacked the fruit beautifully and my mum still produced her hand written signs.
I remember my dad would visit Flemington Markets early in the mornings to pick up his stock. I remember the smell of fresh fruit and veg, the market hustle and bustle, him chatting to the stallholders and loading up the van. The best part of the trip was riding in the back of the van of course! No seat belts required back then.
My parents have retired now, but I’ll never forget what my time as a green grocers daughter taught me.
I learned a lot of valuable skills at the front of that shop, weighing the fruit and adding up the total. Thinking on my feet, learning to speak to customers, building my confidence, learning how to relate to people, a respect and an appreciation for nature and what it can produce.
These are some of my favourite memories. Perhaps my love for the Earth developed from this, and certainly my entrepreneurial nature formed during this time.
To me the green grocer is more than just a shop. It’s a community hub, a place where you can meet your neighbours and be part of something. A place you can get fresh produce and support your local economy, and most of all a place where you can celebrate the abundance of nature.