Wal-Mart looks local to save on shipping

Hispanic Community Wal-Mart store in Garland, Texas

TEXT OF STORY

Bob Moon: The budding local food movement is getting a super sized boost. Wal-Mart has announced plans to get more of the produce it sells from local farms. Its reason? The rising cost of fuel.

From the Marketplace Sustainability Desk, Sam Eaton reports.


Sam Eaton: Wal-Mart says it's committed to double-digit growth in the amount of local fruits and vegetables it sells at its U.S. supercenters. The retail giant says in the past two years, it's boosted the number of local farmers it works with by 50 percent. That means it'll spend about $400 million on local produce this year.

But Iowa State agricultural economist Bruce Babcock says Wal-Mart isn't doing it for the local farmers.

Bruce Babcock: With $4.80 diesel, it makes sense from the bottom line to not import and to pay trucking costs on all this food.

Wal-Mart says it's already saved about $1.5 million in fuel costs by selling more of its peaches in the same states they buy them.

Michele Halsell with the University of Arkansas helped Wal-Mart develop its local sourcing plan and she says the ripple effects extend well beyond retailer's bottom line.

Michele Halsell: It creates access. It helps to expand the reach of the program so that more local farmers can get into the game. It also expands the reach of the program so that other buyers, produce buyers large and small, can also get into the game.

But that expansion could cause growing pains. Babcock says Wal-Mart's definition of local produce isn't the same as that of the local food movement, which promotes small-scale farming and environmental values.

Babcock: Local to Wal-Mart means it's produced in a state and it could be produced on a mega-farm.

In other words, he says, in the eyes of Wal-Mart, that factory farm down the road is just as local as the family-owned vegetable patch.

In Los Angeles, I'm Sam Eaton for Marketplace.

About the author

Sam Eaton is an independent radio and television journalist. His reporting on complex environmental issues from climate change to population growth has taken him all over the United States and the world.

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