Monday, June 21, 2010

Wal-Mart buying more local food, but shipping much of it due to supply difficulties

Wal-Mart is ramping up its local food selections, in an effort to help support small and midsize farms as well as improve its corporate image, but some are questioning the program's logistics. As part of its "Heritage Agriculture" program, "The company is building up smaller farms to get more local produce into stores for both economic and environmental reasons," Kelly Macneil of National Public Radio reports. "A surprising percentage, on many crops, of the cost of the goods is the freight," Ron McCormick, the head of the program, told Macneil.

"McCormick says most local farmers just aren't prepared to supply the retail giant with the huge quantity and consistent quality of produce it requires," Macneil reports. "[It] seemed to be a win all across the board if we could use our buying power to reinvigorate some of those old agricultural areas that had been abandoned over time," McCormick added. Randy Clanton, a southern Arkansas tomato grower and owner of a farm where Wal-Mart has taken a vested interest, says the retail giant has "helped make his operation more professional, especially in the area of food safety," Macneil writes.

"It gives us a sense of security whenever we go out here and start kicking the dirt out here and cranking up ole John Deeres up to get ready," Clanton said of Wal-Mart's investment. "If you know you've got a market out there — that gives you a reason to get up out of bed every morning." While many welcome the ripple effect of any local food investment by Wal-Mart, some have questioned if the Heritage Agriculture program is actually a local-food initiative. "You can do a Heritage Agriculture program and buy certain products grown in Connecticut for your Connecticut stores," Jim Prevor, who used to work in produce distribution but now writes the blog Perishable Pundit, told Macneil. "But in the end it's not going to be a significant part of that Connecticut store's produce sales because most of the months of the year you can't grow anything in Connecticut." (Read more)

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