Wal-Mart Partners With Local Farmers

Jun 18, 2010
Megan Bedard is a sucker for sustainable agriculture and a good farmers market, she likes writing about food almost as much as eating it.
Local fruit: not just for farmers&39; markets anymore. (Photo: Gary Soup/Creative Commons)

Wal-Mart is revamping its image—and farms across the U.S.

With its new Heritage Agriculture program, Wal-Mart is partnering with small and mid-size farm owners to boost the percentage of local produce that the chain sells.

America is accustomed to seeing produce year-round, regardless of season. For the most part, Wal-Mart ships in its produce from regions where it's cheap to produce. Florida, for example, makes for easier orange growing than, say, Minnesota, where for a good part of the year, the earth is frozen. But costs to transport the food are a sizable portion of Wal-Mart's expenses—and the food arrives less fresh than if it had come from a farmer up the road.

So, in a move branded as an environmental and economic inspiration, Wal-Mart wants to make a switch.

Whether Wal-Mart genuinely wants to make a difference or just save a buck, small and mid-size farms aren't equipped to supply on the scale and quality level that Wal-Mart—or any other major chain—requires. So the Heritage Agriculture program will not only bring local produce in, but will assist farmers in reaching the standards necessary to distribute at a higher level than they're used to.

Of course, Wal-Mart has its skeptics. And, of course, the issue of seasonality won't go away—regardless of these new measures, the store cannot continue with its current practices and rely solely on local farmers. 

But Michelle Harvey of the Environmental Defense Fund says the innovation is good any way you slice it, because Wal-Mart has power: "When you've got a private organization the size of Wal-Mart, anything they do in a positive direction for the environment, if they can find a better business model, then the ripple effects are huge," she told NPR.

Photo: Gary Soup/Creative Commons via Flickr

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