LIKE any couple, Patrick and Sally Markham don't always see eye to eye.
This much was true 20 years ago when their fruit-and-vegetable delivery guy offered to sell them his business because he was heading north for some sun.
Patrick had just taken a redundancy from a role driving trucks at a vegetable oil refinery at Rutherford.
"He was like, "No way, I am not delivering fruit!' and I said, 'Let's check it out, so we did," recalls Sally.
Sally and Patrick's Hand-Picked Fruit and Veg began as a delivery run of one box of produce. Also juggling two children under the age of three (they then had two more), the couple slowly grew the business.
Initially, Patrick would travel to the Sydney produce markets at Flemington and return to pack orders in their single-car garage ready to deliver.
They got a warehouse in Sandgate and Sally, busy being a mum, wasn't working with the produce daily. They ramped up marketing and bought other businesses.
That, they say, was a mistake, that almost cost them their house.
"We thought 'Let's go back to the business that has served us well', and we moved it and the house into one spot so I could have more involvement," says Sally, explaining they are based at Dun's Creek, near Paterson. Adds Patrick: "Having the other businesses that didn't go well taught us things and gave us contacts, which helped."
Both raised on Hunter farms, the Markhams are passionate about minimising their environmental footprint by recycling everything they use, and supporting local farmers.
"As a nation we should be able to feed ourselves, if we are reliant on overseas companies for food it is not a good thing," says Sally. "When we've had cyclones wiping out banana crops, you see a flood of bananas from overseas companies and we'll be like, 'No, we'll wait for the Aussie farmers to get back on their feet."
Their product range has grown to include a range of boxes and an online service which allows clients to create their own. The business now delivers to 170 households per week alongside wholesale trade to cafes and schools as well as fruit deliveries to local companies.
The couple are marking their 20 years with pride.
"We find people always come to us for quality and that is our focus, and continues to be," says Sally.
Finishes Patrick: "The best part is the self-determination that we've had for 20 years, not having to rely on someone else for a job and income, but that's also the hardest bit. You can't just focus on what you are doing today, you have to think months ahead."
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