Could Walmart Be the Savior of the Local Small Farm?

There is a must read article at the Atlantic Monthly describing Walmart's little known "Heritage Agriculture" program;

The program, which Walmart calls Heritage Agriculture, willencourage farms within a day’s drive of one of its warehouses to grow crops that now take days to arrive in trucks from states like Florida and California. In many cases the crops once flourished in the places where Walmart is encouraging their revival, but vanished because of Big Agriculture competition.

Ron McCormick, the senior director of local and sustainable sourcing for Walmart, told me that about three years ago he came upon pictures from the 1920s of thriving apple orchards in Rogers, Arkansas, eight miles from the company’s headquarters. Apples were once shipped from northwest Arkansas by railroad to St. Louis and Chicago. After Washington state and California took over the apple market, hardly any orchards remained. Cabbage, greens, and melons were also once staples of the local farming economy. But for decades, Arkansas’s cash crops have been tomatoes and grapes. A new initiative could diversify crops and give consumers fresher produce.

"Could" is the operative word in that sentence. It sounds like it's more an idea than a reality at this point. As much as I hate to admit it, it's going to take the Walmarts of the world to substantially transform certain aspects of local food systems. Our Farmers' Markets, food co-ops and specialty grocers have such a small share of the market that their impact is limited.

On the other hand the farmers' markets have something on offer that Walmart can never compete with; relationships. The markets facilitate relationships between farmers and customers and neighbors with neighbors. These interactions are too inefficient for the machinery of a bottom line business like Walmart.