View Full Version : Walmart Goes Local

10-21-10, 08:54 PM
Really can't figure out where this should go :)

LocalHarvest Newsletter, October 21, 2010

In college I dated someone whose response to ambiguous news was always, "Who's to say what is good and what is bad?" At 22 I thought myself an excellent judge of the good and the bad. Needless to say, the relationship didn't last. I have thought of his question often over the years, though, and it came back to me last week when I read the New York Times article describing Walmart's decision to make a major investment in local and sustainable foods.

On one hand, the thought of Walmart sticking its gigantic foot in the local food door seems potentially ruinous. The company is known for setting extremely low prices with its suppliers, and the margins on real food are already achingly slim. Would contracts with Walmart actually help farmers, or ultimately hurt them?

On the other hand, Walmart is going to get its apples and broccoli and onions from somewhere. It might as well be close to home, with some type of sustainable practices. Decentralizing food production is a good idea. If the planet's biggest grocer turns sustained attention toward buying a significant amount of local food (which, according to the Times, they define as within the state) they could do a great deal to encourage the establishment and growth of mid-sized farms across the country. That would be a good thing.

Walmart may be able to procure foods grown within certain geographic boundaries, but for many of us, local food means more than that. For me, "local food" is a kind of shorthand for an entire ethic. In this ethic, food is produced under quality conditions, on a scale that feels human rather than corporate, by people whose focus is on natural resource stewardship as much as it is on the bottom line, in a business whose owners do right by their employees. On the consumer side of this ethic, the food is purchased, prepared and eaten with awareness of its true value.

All week I have been thinking about what single word would capture the feeling behind this ideal. The word I came up with was 'kindness'. In my estimation, there is a broad, radical kindness that underlies the emerging alternative food economy, which ultimately is an economy based on relationship. It is hard for me to imagine that kindness and relationships are at the heart of the megastore's buy local campaign. But it is also hard for me to imagine a future without grocery store chains. I fully expect that the groundswell of support for authentic food and small farmers will continue to grow and flourish. If, alongside it, the nation's grocers begin engaging local farmers in their response to consumer demand for higher quality food, and if farmers are able to get fair prices, that would also be a good thing.

As always, take good care and eat well,

Erin Barnett
Director, LocalHarvest
www.localharvest.org (http://www.localharvest.org)

10-21-10, 09:16 PM
I have mixed feelings about Wal-Mart. As a one-time competitor with them, and learning from the trade magazines how they coerced and manipulated suppliers into rock-bottom costs by cutting quality, anger and resentment led my parade of emotions. Later I learned of their fraudulent labeling of certain organics. I've bought a few articles of clothing, and even the brand names are crap, reflecting the necessary drop in quality required to do business with them.

On the other hand, they do a great PR job, donating to local charities and causes. Buying local not only makes them look even more community-minded, it probably saves on transportation costs. But just when I'm about to point out that despite appearances, no profitable corporation is driven by "kindness," I recall that the local supermarket chain has a high ethical standard. They have assured me — both local management and corporate headquarters — that they will not carry irradiated produce, and they do not sell GM produce either. They (Hannaford) also buy locally, including those lovely tiny uncontaminated Maine shrimp. WM does not. All they carry are the big Asian shrip that are grown under chicken coops and feed on the antibiotic-laden chicken poop.

Sorry, were you in the middle of dinner? Ooops!