It’s true. As mentioned in a previous post, this summer corporate behemoth, Wal-Mart, is jumping on the “eat local” bandwagon. According to the state of Maine’s official website:
The Maine Potato Board, Wal-Mart Supercenters, Bushwick Potato Company, and Guerrette Farms have embarked on a campaign to bring the freshest tablestock potatoes to Maine consumers. Wal-Mart Supercenters across the state will feature ten-pound bags of potatoes with the “Get Real, Get Maine!” logo.
The irony of one of the largest, community-crushing corporations supporting local farmers is not lost on me. But over the last few years Walmart has made strides to clean up its act (or it’s bad image, which has at least some of the same impact as cleaning up its act) – donating money to charitable causes, and engaging in sustainability work. According to the Maine website, Wal-Mart’s Vice President of Produce, Ron McCormick could have been quoting a locavore activist when he said, “It’s important to Wal-Mart to support local growers…”
Maybe Wal-Mart has heard the siren call of the booming local foods movement, or maybe their head honchos’ hearts are in the right place. But do locavores really want Wal-Mart batting on their team?
As Michael Pollan and many others have indicated, Wal-Mart’s impact on the organics movement (they started selling organic produce in 2006) has made marginal progress on the front of making organics acceptable and available to the masses, and lots to encourage the watering down of the standards behind the organic stamp of approval.
Perhaps the local foods movement will prove to be more resilient than organic food. Afterall, there’s a certain amount of gritty grassroots, “grow-your-own” spirit infusing the movement, and you can’t exactly get away with selling New Zealand apples as locally grown in upstate New York.
But who gets to define what “local” means (100 miles? 500 miles? 1000?), and which farms will get all the support? Will Wal-Mart really benefit the small and mid-sized vegetable farmer growing a diverse bed of organic kale, corn, and bok choy, or will it toot its own horn for featuring one or two “local items” – potato, corn, and whatever it can get in large amounts for a reduced price from one or two large, conventional farms that happens to be within proximity of the Super Center?
Either way, what worries me is that, like the hulking, dim-witted but well-meaning Lennie in “Of Mice and Men,” who loves a poor little mouse to death, so Walmart’s embrace of local foods might bring more harm than good to the farmers it claims to support.