July 2, 2008

Wal-Mart Going Local

Talk about your conundrums.  What happens when all of those (us?) Wal-Mart* skeptics are faced with the reality that feeding the big blue machine or buying locally produced food are one in the same option?  Well, with today's announcement from Wal-Mart that they plan on buying and selling $400 million worth of produce grown by local farmers within its state stores this year alone, it looks like that's where we are headed.  As you might guess, the world's largest retailer hasn't suddenly turned locavore they are simply doing what they do best - watching the bottom line.  Wal-Mart is the nation's largest purchaser of produce and it takes a lot of diesel to move all those fruits and veggies around.  The closer to the register they can buy the more money they save.  

There are undoubtedly some within the local food movement who will be troubled by Wal-Mart's move into the arena but I'm not one of them.  Wal-Mart isn't about to sign up for our CSA, nor are they going to undercut the market of customers who are interested in it.  By and large they will still be buying from the large factory style farms but they will be doing a better job of logistics and distribution--they will be using less fuel, which isn't bad for anyone.  There will undoubtedly be some smallish to medium size farms who are able to enter into the game as well by providing niche crops.  How will it affect the farmers' price of that previously "premium priced" local produce?  We'll have to see.  How will it affect the local food movement in the long run?  We'll have to see there as well, but I'm not above thinking that it could be a boon nor am I naive enough to think that altruistic motives are a requirement for benefiting the greater good.  Wal-Mart's efforts at greening its stores was the catalyst that a lot of other retailers, businesses, and corporations needed to take seriously their own efforts at reducing their environmental footprint.  Perhaps their entry into local food production could have a similar catalyzing affect on struggling local food systems.  I don't care how anti-Wal-Mart you are, if you can get them talking about "food miles" on their own website that has to make you smile a bit, even if its a largely ironic grin.

* Does the new logo mean that the hyphen is out?

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