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 Posted on NPR:
http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=127835736&sc=emaf

 Wal-Mart Helps Small Farms Supply 'Local' Foods

by Kelly MacNeil

In recent years,
Wal-Mart<http://npr.wikinvest.com/wikinvest/export/v3/?frame=NPRTearsheet&action=getFrame&search=NYSE:WMT>hastried
to soften its image as a corporate steamroller with a number of local
and environmental projects.

The company wants to revitalize small and midsize farms in the U.S. and has
begun a program to increase the amount of local produce sold in Walmart
stores. The program also benefits consumers, who have access to fresher
food, as well as Wal-Mart itself. But some critics are skeptical of the
program's logistics.

*A Win-Win Program?*

At a Walmart in Maumelle, Ark., a stock boy pushes fruit cups and salad
toppings onto produce racks. On this day, most fruits and vegetables are
labeled with faraway locations: Washington state, Florida, Honduras.

It's cheaper to grow food in those places, but getting it to central
Arkansas burns a lot of fuel. And while environmentalists worry about carbon
emissions, Wal-Mart sees dollar signs.

"A surprising percentage, on many crops, of the cost of the goods is the
freight," says Ron McCormick, the head of Wal-Mart's Heritage
Agriculture<http://asc.uark.edu/Agile_Agriculture-MarketMaker_Rob_McCormick.pdf>program.

The company is building up smaller farms to get more local produce into
stores for both economic and environmental reasons. 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.

"[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 says.

*Diversification*

Wal-Mart is eyeing areas like southern Arkansas, where farmer Randy Clanton
drives the back roads of the town of Hermitage. He's checking on field
workers preparing tomato seedlings. A shotgun rides in the truck beside him.


Clanton says his family started growing tomatoes in this area 50 years ago.
"That was back when most of your produce business was done in small, mom and
pop operations," Clanton says. "They'd bring these tomatoes in on trailer
trucks, even on half-bushel baskets back then."

Clanton says Wal-Mart has helped make his operation more professional,
especially in the area of food safety. Wal-Mart has urged Clanton to
diversify and plant watermelons, peppers and cabbage. Now he supplies food
to distribution centers covering six states. And the larger market means
Clanton makes more money.

"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," he says.
"If you know you've got a market out there  that gives you a reason to get
up out of bed every morning."

Clanton is one of about 350 farmers Wal-Mart is working with as part of its
Heritage Agriculture program.

*The Realities Of Local Produce*

But when Wal-Mart sells Clanton's Arkansas produce in Illinois, is that
still "local food"  or is it business as usual?
 "You can do a Heritage Agriculture program and buy certain products grown
in Connecticut for your Connecticut stores," says Jim Prevor, who used to
work in produce distribution but now writes the blog Perishable
Pundit<http://www.perishablepundit.com/>.
"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."

"When you've got a private organization the size of Wal-Mart, anything they
do in a positive direction for the environment, if they can find a better
business model, then the ripple effects are huge," says Michelle Harvey of
the Environmental Defense Fund.

Harvey notes, for example, that Wal-Mart now grows cilantro for Eastern
stores in Florida rather than California. Costs are lower, and the herbs are
fresher for customers.

Wal-Mart won't say what its long-term goal is for the Heritage Agriculture
program, but it says as of today, 6 percent of its produce is grown in the
same state it's sold.
Potential Impact

As the world's largest retailer, Wal-Mart greatly influences the products
people buy at its own stores as well as other retailers. And a move toward
locally grown produce by the retail powerhouse could impact the produce
offerings at smaller grocers and supermarkets across the country.

According to Nielsen research, more than *200 million* people shop at
Walmart stores every year in the U.S.

Wal-Mart reported *$405* billion in sales for the fiscal year ending Jan.
31, 2010.

The company has *4,300* stores including supercenters, discount stores,
Neighborhood Markets and Sam's Club warehouses.

*Source:* walmartstores.com <http://walmartstores.com/pressroom/FactSheets/>


-- 
Dr. Teri Hamlin
North Region Agriculture Education
Georgia Department of Education
204C Four Towers University of Georgia
Athens, Ga 30602
706-552-4461 / 706-540-0032
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