October 20, 2010

Walmart is Going 'Local'

Walmart just announced an initiative aimed at increasing their stake in local food and sustainable agriculture development. The new Heritage Agriculture Program focuses on sustainable agriculture among its suppliers as it tries to reduce its overall environmental impact. Walmart plans to attack this issue of sustainability by reintroducing the cultivation of produce in areas "where it once grew." (Pictured above are the three "local regions" they will begin their efforts in). 

Given that Wal-Mart is the world’s largest grocer, with one of the biggest food supply chains, any changes it makes to their procurement and distribution systems will have wide implications. Some farmers might see this news as their big break. I suspect many others are nervous, disappointed, even angry as they consider how this news will affect the vitality of locally operated distribution systems, wholesale and farmers markets, and food coops. The requirements to sell to a company like Walmart are huge--many small family farming operations in Central and Southern Appalachia don't work on the scale which Walmart is interested. Is Walmart willing to buy directly from farmers in smaller quantities? Probably not. The only way for most small and medium farmers to sell to Walmart is by banding together in cooperative packing, marketing and distribution systems. Whether or not this is something they want to do, can afford, or have the infrastructure for is the troubling question.

New York Times has a good article about the issue HERE.
Walmart's October 14th press release can be found HERE.

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