Is Wal-Mart Serious About Local Produce?

Brent Finnegan -- November 10th, 2010

Last month Wal-Mart announced a new initiative to stock more locally-grown produce in their U.S. stores.

The program is intended to put more locally grown food in Wal-Mart stores in the United States, invest in training and infrastructure for small and medium-size farmers, particularly in emerging markets, and begin to measure how efficiently large suppliers grow and get their produce into stores. (NYT)

Walmart at Harrisonburg Crossing

Wal-Mart at Harrisonburg Crossing. Photo by Renee via the hburgnews Flickr group.

This is a move Wal-Mart has been touting for at least two years. In 2008, I wrote, “The company is attempting to change their image by trying to appeal to environmentalists and locavores by selling local produce in their Supercenters.”

The re-run has some critics calling last month’s announcement a publicity stunt.

Wednesday, Patrick Cooley reported in the Daily News-Record that at least one producer in Timberville has been selling apples to Wal-Mart for almost a decade.

Jaime Williams, Turkey Knob’s president, said selling to Wal-Mart appeals more to larger and midsized operations like his.

“We grow a million bushels [of apples] a year,” he said. “If I was growing 10,000 bushels a year, I wouldn’t be knocking on any retailer’s door. I would be trying to sell them directly to the customers.”

Farmers markets are more appealing to farmers with smaller operations, Williams said.

Turkey Knob just started growing peaches, he said, but because it doesn’t grow enough to sell them in bulk, the company likely will sell them directly to consumers.

If the announcement turns out to be more than a PR stunt, would it entice you to shop there if you don’t already?

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44 Responses to “Is Wal-Mart Serious About Local Produce?”

  1. Erik says:

    I suppose that’s good. As long as Wal-Mart isn’t buying the farm itself or imposing unhealthy stipulation on the farm or farmer, then it seems alright. **Big emphasis on “seems”** However, I try to stay away from the place and cannot imagine the availability of local produce changing my mind about the frequency at which I shop there.

    I will forever think of Wal-Mart as the place that disallows worker unions, enslaves workers in third-world countries for the production of cheap crap, creates massive amounts of waste, …and as the place for young bohemians to render “complimentary” vitamin water and snacks in the middle of the night. ;-)

    Bottom-line: just another company that is in no way to be trusted.

  2. Erik says:

    If you accurately look at Wal-Mart, the entire company, analogously as a human being, it would be a human being with a criminal record of murder and extortion. Would you change your mind about that human being if it swore to suddenly have YOUR best interests in mind?

  3. Renee says:

    I don’t know if the Pumpkins they sold this year were local, but I only paid $2 for a large pumpkin at WalMart a few days before Halloween. I couldn’t pass up the deal but it did make me wonder how much the farmer got.

    I did buy the Turkey Knob apples since I recognized they were a local company, and I would buy more of my produce at WalMart if I knew they were supporting local farms, as long as I wasn’t hearing complaints from the farmers that they weren’t being treated fairly.

  4. Brooke says:

    On the one hand, as a consumer, I want to “reward” them for doing the right things, so that they continue doing the right things (they won’t if there’s nothing in it for them…profits).

    On the other hand, my biggest reasons for avoiding Wally World are not about their produce being local. It’s about how they treat their employees (like crap), and how they treat the people that work for them in other countries (like worse crap). That doesn’t change because they start buying apples from Farmer Bob, however happy that may make me.

    Really, the more I think about it, it’s almost like asking if I’ll take back a smelly, cheating boyfriend who beats me because he’s started bathing.

  5. David Miller says:

    Brooke, I think you summed it up nicely. I shop Kroger (Union workers) and the Farmer’s Market. I do not lack for options and my conscience approves

  6. Becky says:

    For more information on Wal-Mart’s practices go here:
    http://bit.ly/bGDjzD.

  7. Randall See says:

    Union membership in the U.S. hovers around 12% or so and it’s a lot lower than that within the private sector. Hopefully the trend toward decreased unionization will continue as it has since the 1940s. I almost never shop at WalMart; it’s just a personal choice, I don’t like the shopping experience. But WalMart is the largest company in the world and is a stunning American business success story. Started within my lifetime by Sam Walton, who a few years before was working at J.C. Penney for $75 a month, the chain has revolutionized retail, and tens of millions of customers vote with their feet every day and shop there. If Sam Walton were alive today he would be worth more than Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, combined. Maybe we should celebrate entrepreneurs a little more and union and community organizers a little less.

    • Brooke says:

      Depends upon how you define success, Randall.

      If you mean merely the bottom line and wealth of owner and shareholder, then, yes, they are a HUGE success.

      If you define success but not only how much profit is generated, but also the quality of life and treatment of your store and manufacturing employees, and how the local community is impacted by their presence, then, no, they are not a “success.” By that standard of measurement, they’re far merely a huge, soulless corporation that is trying to convince us they’re far more benign than they really are.

  8. Randall See says:

    I don’t know, Walmart has created millions of jobs and saves working families thousands of dollars a year with lower costs allowing them to spend that money on other things. I own a small corporation and as far as I know it doesn’t have a soul either.

    • David Miller says:

      Randall, I believe that I understand where you are coming from. My perspective on the matter is that if you move your business into town, slash and burn your prices so as to kill your competition and then rehire the employees that they had to layoff when they closed, that doesn’t exactly count as job creation!

      I don’t know, I’ve got so much against huge companies whose business models insist that they pay their employees below poverty wages (so much so that a rising percentage of Walmart employees have to use food stamps to survive) then you’re not really doing anybody any favors. Cheap toilet paper is great, but go get it from Costco, they pay benefits and a living wages.

      I’m sure we can debate all day, I chose to do as you suggest and vote weekly at the Farmer’s Market and Kroger.

      btw, many workers in this country resent wealthy folks telling them that unions are evil! It gets under the skin of the working class to be told that life in America was better prior to Unions. I challenge you to look into worker conditions and how unions brought those workers out of the gutter so that they can work towards the American Dream of upward mobility.

      • Brooke says:

        Well put, David.

        It’s made our budget tighter, but at some point we felt like the “cost” of those “low, low prices” was not worth it. There are times I lapse and end up going because there’s something there I need that I couldn’t find somewhere else, but they are rare, and I try to avoid the place if at all possible. I just didn’t feel good saving money by shopping somewhere that treats people working for them (here and abroad) so poorly.

        • DebSF says:

          Ditto. Well put.

          • seth says:

            as an aside, one thing i really like about walmart is their commitment to hire employees with disabilities. i could be wrong (stats seem hard to find), but i think that they’re up there in terms of the number of individuals with disabilities they hire on the national scale, and locally, they certainly do as much if not more than any other company i know to create these sorts of opportunities.

            dave, regarding the discussion of unions, i don’t think randy meant to downplay what they have done for labor rights in this country or to say that things were better before unions. i think that the point is more that we’ve passed that point in history and modern unions need to reevaluate their missions and goals. i heard on npr this morning that as gm is making it’s first public stock offering since the governement take over, unions are attempting to roll back the concessions they made during restructuring. i do believe that organized labor has a place in the contemporary united states, but i think that they need to think long and hard about where that place is.

      • seth says:

        hey dave,
        pardon my button pushing in advance, but when i saw this article:

        (http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/blogs/beltway-confidential/low-tax-states-will-gain-seats-high-tax-states-will-lose-them-108681159.html#ixzz15YatMfqU)

        about low tax, right to work states gaining population/representation, i thought of you. i guess i’m wondering how you can be so dedicated to the idea of not shopping at walmart while remaining in a state that doesn’t support your values. NY and OH need you! :)

        • David Miller says:

          causation vs correlation in an opinion section is always fun. When you use nuanced propaganda like “the right to work” you must realize that it is a classic right wing bait and switch. What it actually means is the right to fire without cause. I’m actually a fan of that right but I think that pretending that Card Check is anything but a measure to protect workers from big business intimidation is immoral.

          GM gets to pay back some of its debt to us, great! What are the Unions asking for that you disagree with again, I missed that part?

          • seth says:

            i need to educate myself on the card check thing, i know it’s something that seems to break down pretty strictly along party lines but i’m not as familiar with the details as i should be. in terms of ‘right to work’ being disingenuous, i can see your point but we’re constantly framing things in terms that favor our opinions/positions (i think of pro-choice, pro-life, etc).

            i also agree that it’s great that GM is paying off it’s debt (and if it ends up a success story, then the administration will certainly deserve some of that credit), but the fact that unions would try to mitigate their concessions (i’m not exactly clear on what they said they’d give up but now don’t want to (you’re right, i need to look into it)) just as soon as there seems to be a light at the end of the tunnel is troublesome to me.

        • Bazrik says:

          Apparently, seth knows what values the entire “state” supports. Last I checked, VA represented a pretty good mix, but what do I know. I’m not “seth”.

          • seth says:

            bazrik,
            you might have heard of classifying states as ‘red’ or ‘blue.’ while these classifications are based on generalizations, we use them in order to get an idea of how certain states are likely to vote in a given election. even the most sinister news outlets would not suggest that because we classify a state as one thing or the other, everyone in that state ascribes to the values associated with that classification. if you took my comment to mean that i believe that all virginians share some homogenous set of values, then you mistook it and i apologize for not being clear enough for you to understand.

            however, last i checked, va is a low tax, right to work state that ranks very highly in terms of the best states in our nation for business.

            if you feel the need to direct your ire towards people you feel are making unfounded generaliztions that they believe to be true, might i suggest you take the opportunity to examine the above comments about the evil nature of walmart.

          • Bazrik says:

            Wow, overreact much? What “ire” do you derive from my simple jab of a comment? Easy there, hoss. Knee-jerk reactions abound here.

            But now that you’ve actually got some ire going – how else are we supposed to take your comment – “a state that doesn’t support your [Dave’s] values”? You’re saying “the state”, as a whole, doesn’t support Dave’s values. Period. I.e., he’s an outsider. Plain and simple, your comment indicates that you very much believe there is a “homogenous set of values” here. Really – how else are we supposed to interpret your comment? You take me to task here, so please explain.

            …and enlighten us Seth – what color do you think VA is, now that you bring it up?

          • seth says:

            bazrik,
            i was teasing dave, which i thought was apparent by the ‘pardon my button pushing in advance’ sentence that began the comment. again sorry, i’ll try to be more clear for you. the point of the teasing was to say that i don’t believe walmart, as a corporation, has any more homogenous values than a state (call it va)that would be considered low tax, business friendly, etc (as i established above, walmart does have some very positive attributes). like i said, i really just meant to tease dave, but also to point out that if you’re going to say that walmart is wholesale evil, you might as well make the same generalizations about states that are more pro-business than others.

            in terms of what color va is, i really don’t care. i’ll continue to continue supporting whoever i feel is the best option in any given election.

          • seth says:

            and i do apoligize if i overreacted, that tends to be my response to smart asses who aren’t interested in civil conversations.

          • Bazrik says:

            And I, in turn was teasing you with my very first response. But now look what you’ve done – sunk to name-calling. I was actually starting to understand your first reply, but then you just had to post that second one. I’d say that falls under the “mean-spirited comment”. Class act, buddy.

  9. Daniel says:

    I have not been inside a Wal-Mart for 3-years, and that was only for shotgun shells. I can’t stand the place. I hate even driving by.

    This BS about supporting the local farmer is just that. Next thing you know Wal-Mart will be “going green”. Again, more BS.

    But the Rednecks eat this up. It justifies their shopping trips to Wal-Mart. They can get their microwave chicken, Snuggie, and Yosemite Sam floor mats all in the same spot, and feel like they’re doing the community good….even though 90% of the crap that store sells will end up in a land field in less than 5-years.

    • Anne Lorimer says:

      Please avoid libeling Rednecks.

    • Coalition for Appalachian-American Rights says:

      Considering the vast majority of so-called “rednecks” live at best on the margins of poverty, the reason they shop at Wal-Mart probably has to do with the store’s cheap prices.

      Obviously Wal-Mart is a vile organization, but it is often scapegoated by trendy liberals for the crimes of an entire economic system.

      Furthermore the romanticism of the “local economy” is absurd.

    • Emmy says:

      Well my car came with floor mats when I bought it, I don’t eat chicken (or any meat for that matter), but yes, I did buy my Snuggie at Wal-Mart. Does that make me 1/3 Redneck?

  10. Emmy says:

    I’m well aware of all of the horrible things Wal-Mart does and how they ruin the small business when the move into an area. I also know a few people that work at our stores that would not have jobs if it weren’t for Wal-Mart. They hire people who some would consider less than desirable employees and change their lives for the better. I’ve gone back and forth on my level of guilt for shopping there and I’ve decided to give myself permission. I have a family, a very limited budget and it’s more convenient for me than other stores a lot of the time.

    They’re not going anywhere and if you don’t want to shop there then that is certainly your choice and I have no problem with that. Since I do shop there, I do think what I purchase makes a difference. I go back to what the owner of Stoneyfield Farms said in Food Inc., when people buy his organic dairy products in Wal-Mart that’s a ton of resources that were spared over the other products like his. The cows were treated better, the employees of that company were likely treated better, etc. So, if you do choose to shop there and you choose the local produce over the stuff from across the country then you are making a statement to Wal-Mart. They pay attention to those things whether we think they do or not. The more local stuff we buy, they more they sell. They want to make money, so they’ll stock what they think we want.

    If you don’t feel good about shopping there, then it doesn’t really matter, just don’t do it. But, if you do shop there, and you want to let them know what you want to see, then pay attention to what you’re buying.

    • Coalition for Appalachian-American Rights says:

      “I also know a few people that work at our stores that would not have jobs if it weren’t for Wal-Mart. They hire people who some would consider less than desirable employees and change their lives for the better.”

      “The slave did not sell his labour-power to the slave-owner, any more than the ox sells his labour to the farmer. The slave, together with his labour-power, was sold to his owner once for all. He is a commodity that can pass from the hand of one owner to that of another. He himself is a commodity, but his labour-power is not his commodity. The serf sells only a portion of his labour-power. It is not he who receives wages from the owner of the land; it is rather the owner of the land who receives a tribute from him. The serf belongs to the soil, and to the lord of the soil he brings its fruit. The free labourer, on the other hand, sells his very self, and that by fractions. He auctions off eight, 10, 12, 15 hours of his life, one day like the next, to the highest bidder, to the owner of raw materials, tools, and the means of life – i.e., to the capitalist. The labourer belongs neither to an owner nor to the soil, but eight, 10, 12, 15 hours of his daily life belong to whomsoever buys them. The worker leaves the capitalist, to whom he has sold himself, as often as he chooses, and the capitalist discharges him as often as he sees fit, as soon as he no longer gets any use, or not the required use, out of him. But the worker, whose only source of income is the sale of his labour-power, cannot leave the whole class of buyers, i.e., the capitalist class, unless he gives up his own existence. He does not belong to this or that capitalist, but to the capitalist class”
      -Marx, Wage Labor and Capital

  11. Daniel says:

    You people who shop at Wal-Mart for “low prices” and “convenience” are only fooling themselves. There is so much that can be said, but I’d be here all-day-long typing it. I suggest watching FRESH The Movie, and Food inc., you can see them on Nexflix as an instant download or rent them.

    Better yet, just go to Youtube and you can see bits and pieces if you’re too fat and lazy to rent the movie. I’ve seen the people who shop at Wal-Mart, so I know it must take a lot of motivation and energy to get up from the computer to educate yourself.

    • Brooke says:

      Speaking as someone who avoids Wal-Mart like the plague, is it necessary to be so incredibly insulting when making your point? Why assume that people who go to Wal-Mart are “fat and lazy”? I think it’s probably possible to make your point without resorting to ad hominem attacks against those who might disagree with you. :-)

      • Daniel says:

        I’m not saying it’s because someone disagrees with me. I mean seriously, have you been to a Wal-Mart? It’s disgusting. What I’ve said is only borderline stereotyping because it’s true.

        • seth says:

          i saw some guys with swastika armbands walking downtown yesterday. i just booed them, but i can only imagine that had i asked how they felt about jews, mexicans, etc, they’d likely claim that their shitty opinions are ‘only borderline stereotyping, because it’s true.’

        • blondiesez says:

          Speaking as someone who shops at Wal-Mart (and Food Lion, and the farmer’s market, and Sharp Shopper); is neither fat nor lazy; and who knows of many others who fit my descriptors, enough with the condescending over-generalizing aspersions. Really. It does nothing to help your arguments.

          • Emmy says:

            Pretty funny Daniel, if you had actually bothered to READ then you would have seen where I mentioned Food Inc. in my post above…and I shop at Wal-Mart.

            Given that you’ve seen the people who shop at Wal-Mart, I can only assume that you yourself have been in Wal-Mart and must therefore fit your own description of those who shop there.

          • Daniel says:

            LOL, it’s hardly a “over-generalizing aspersion”. You shop there, so you know. Going to Wal-Mart is like walking into some sort of comedy freak show. They’ve even got websites dedicated to it. http://www.peopleofwalmart.com/?page_id=9798

            If you want to see folks who lack total sophistication, and who have no idea what the cost of ‘cheap food’ is, just go to a Wal-Mart. Any Wal-Mart.

            But that’s hardly my point. My point is that the people who shop at Wal-Mart are only hurting our community. If every person who regulatory shops at Wal-Mart spent $5 or $10 a week with their local farmer, the economy within the entire Valley would explode. How much of that $5 or $10 you spend at Wal-Mart do you think stays within the community!? It’s the high cost of low prices…and rednecks love low prices. They love low prices so much they do not care where their food comes from, what’s in and/or on it, or how it was produced. All they know, and care about, is how cheap it is. AND THEY FEED IT TO THEIR KIDS! Of course they wash all this cheap food down with diet Mt. Dew…and then wonder why they’re hungry 2-hours later.

            I don’t know how Wal-Mart selling local, fresh, produce will help out the local farmer. I, for one, would not buy it, but maybe others would trust it. IGA in Bridgewater and Red Front have been doing it for as long as I can remember. I choose to belong to a food share program where I get my produce delivered to a central “depot” only 1.2 miles from my home in Grottoes. This way I know my $$ goes directly to the local farmer, and I can visit/inspect this farm(s) anytime I choose to do so. I don’t understand why the local farmer would want to use Wal-Mart as a middle-man since Wal-Mart does so much to harm the local farmer.

  12. Renee says:

    One thing I do know about Wal-Mart is that they are VERY statistics-driven. Part of their success is due to high levels of automation in the purchasing. Whatever makes the most money, and sells fastest (down to the store level) is re-stocked.

    So, if you want Wal-Mart to support local farms or organic produce, go there and buy the local/organic items. If the locally-grown stuff flies off the shelf and the fruit grown in Mexico isn’t bought up and has to be thrown out, they will buy local over Mexican produce next time.

    I agree with Emmy that Wal-Mart isn’t going anywhere soon. So instead of boycotting it, the next best thing is to buy the items produced by places you want to support so Wal-Mart continues to support them, too.

  13. Sam Nickels says:

    Re debate on role of modern unions, the workers at Cargill in Dayton are trying again to unionize. They are so frustrated with the treatment, stagnating wages, physical problems they deal with, etc., that they are making significant efforts to make this happen. Unfortunately, they see no other way to confront their employer effectively.

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