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Green Diva’s Guide to Delicious Living: Wal-Mart Good for Local Business?

Genesis Farm, Blairstown, NJ

I am all about buying local and in particular, I am a big supporter of local farmers. I’ve always seen Wal-Mart as the antithesis of my beliefs in creating a more regionally economically sustainable culture.

When a press release came through from Wal-Mart announcing their commitment to increase their use of local farmers to provide fresh produce, I was skeptical.

However, in doing a little research for this post, I visited the Wal-Mart website and found that they have an entire section devoted to sustainability. Okay. That is good. You can see that they are going to great lengths to at least appear to be implementing more sustainable activities across the board. But one could argue that these are all either cost-saving measures or done to be SC or Sustainable Correct, which is important to their marketing and PR efforts.

This cynical view of things aside, one could also argue that anything Wal-Mart implements on a corporate level will have a pretty big impact on whatever local economies they might otherwise be harming.

And then there is the argument that even if it is slightly misguided and perhaps coming from impure motives, isn’t it great that a consumer retail corporation of this magnitude is stepping up and reflecting some of these principals to literally billions of people some that might not otherwise take notice of this stuff?

I’m personally of the mind that any movement in this direction, from wherever it comes is good.

Wal-Mart can be faulted for many things, but this is a step in the right direction for many reasons, not the least of which is that they have a tendency to have devastating effects on local businesses and this is one way to make some amends for that. It definitely shortens the trip from ‘farm to fork’ in many cases.

My only other concern is a perennial issue with organic versus locally grown (when locally grown is NOT organic). I think it is not a simple answer and one that if we educate ourselves about the variety of issues surrounding organic and local agriculture, we can begin to think it through. For instance, I found out last year, thatย many of the ‘local’ farmers in my area aren’t certified organic, but are in transition.ย 

I also think it is vital to know which conventionally grown fruits and veggies are okay and which ones to avoid if we are concerned about ingesting pesticide residue.

None of the farmers I saw listed on the Wal-Mart site appeared to be organic. So . . .

the organic center pocket guide Here are a couple of suggestions to help educate yourself better on the subject in order to make healthier buying decisions that hopefully will have the most positive impact on the environment and the local economy:

1. Get your hands on the Organic Center’s handy dandy little shopping guide,ย Organicย Essentials,ย on the produce most impacted by pesticide use in conventional farm methods.

2. Talk to your local farmers and/or your local markets where you purchase produce.

3. If they aren’t organic, keep asking them about it, writing letters, pestering store managers, etc. until they feel the pressure to get with the program!

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Photo of Genesis Farm in Blairstown, NJ with permission from Relevant Times

3 comments
  1. Ellie

    I made a point of asking several sellers at the local outdoor market if they had any organic/pesticide free vegetables and fruits today. The most common answer I got was “we wouldn’t have anything to sell if we didn’t spray.” I really think it would be a good business decision. A worker in the local supermarket said he was almost out of organic stuff and waiting on the truck to arrive the next day. Anyway, I’m going to continue asking and hope they get the message.

  2. Seth White

    Thanks for the insightful look at a company many people choose to label bad guy without a second glance. I’m still skeptical about the altruism and more importantly, ultimate outcome of Wal-Mart’s policies, though.

    Wal-Mart, as you mentioned, has a well-known and documented history of driving local, downtown shops and stores out of business, and I don’t see how their newfound green values (whether local or organic) are contrary to this history. You mention that Wal-Mart could be “making ammends” for previous evils and the argument implies that somehow keeping local farmers in business (which I agree the business practice might do) is somehow a panacaea. Fact is, most people have to drive pretty far to get to a Wal-Mart, increase carbon emissions, etc., in stark contrast to walking/bicycling to their local farmers market (an institution that stands to loose here).

    While I appreciate the emphasis on local food, a very important part of the solution for sustainable living, it’s just one part of a bigger story that includes transportation, walkability in our cities, and decentralization of corporate power back to local communities. Wouldn’t the best solution be to sustain not only local farmers, but local farmers markets and the communities that benefit from increased downtown economic (not to mention social) activity? I guess I feel that choosing the lesser of evils (Wal-Mart local veggies over Wal-Mart distant veggies), we’re missing out on opportunities to create a richer way of life. Let’s just skip Wal-Mart altogether, and take our communities back.

    Anyway, there’s my two cents! I appreciate your article and hope to hear more about the issue.

  3. Megan McWilliams

    great and thoughtful comment. i wouldn’t argue with you on most of it. i think ultimately, i’d rather see people gathering at a farmer’s market to get locally produced food, but i think in reality, we have a vast majority of people who aren’t there yet. my hope is that these kind of side-ways entry points will help to enlighten and enlarge their view on what local, sustainable economy is really about.

    and i completely agree that wal-mart expansion of locally grown produce does NOT make up for the small and local hardware stores, nurseries, pharmacies, and clothing stores that have been devastated by their presence.

    if people persist in keeping convenience and cheap as priorities, perhaps we need to create a co-operative department store chain that is not-for-profit, but is able to create a one-stop shop that includes all kinds of local vendors, producers, artisans!

    just a little dream . . .

    ;)GD Meg

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