Ripe For The Night | KCUR

Ripe For The Night

Aug 26, 2012

The merchandise doesn’t linger for long at Liberty Fruit Co. Inc., on Argentine Blvd. in Kansas City, Kan.

This business survives on movement. As a wholesaler, Liberty buys fruits and vegetables from all over the country, brings them into this huge warehouse and then sends them all out again – quickly – to an eight state region.  Produce can rot, after all, and customers are waiting.

At night, the movement is palpable.

“We turn it fast,” says Robbie Mitchell, the night warehouse manager. “It’s just go, go, go from the time they clock in until the time they clock out.”

Mitchell, who has been in the produce industry for 19 years, comes in at 3 in the afternoon and typically works a 10- to 13-hour shift. Liberty itself shuts down for just 12 hours every Saturday afternoon – the rest of time, produce is coming in and going out.

At around 1 a.m. on this night in mid-July, Mitchell’s got a full crew of 38 on the job.  And it’s like a mini mart on wheels. About 20 or so guys —  the pullers — are zooming around  on riding jacks, seemingly with their own traffic code and no speed limit. It takes them anywhere from 2 to 10 minutes to pick an order – boxes of fruit, onions, potatoes stored in Liberty’s 13 coolers. The loads are then transported into the trucks on the dock. This is the food that will be served in many of Kansas City’s restaurants tomorrow.

“It is a lot different at nights than it is day shift,” Mitchells says, “Days are a little more relaxed. On night shift, we have a lot of cases to get out and more trucks to get out by the following morning.”

He says the busiest time is actually between 9 and midnight, when the trucks headed out of town need to get moving. “After that it’s downhill.”