One thought on “What is “local” according to Wal Mart?

  1. This article brings up important points about the word “local” being used as shorthand to describe not only geographic location of food production, but also as Andy Fisher is quoted as saying, “It’s scale and ownership and how you treat your workers. Walmart is doing industrial local.” But Walmart is just the behemoth in a cluster of giants, and the industrialization phenomenon is not restricted to the retail end of food systems. I recently read a book by Julie Guthman called “Agrarian Dreams: The Paradox of Organic Farming in California”. She tales a very comprehensive look at how California’s original organic farm/food movement became subsumed by the very system it sought to reject, that is, neoliberal free market and competitive systems. Many things happened in the organic movement that served both to increase organic’s success, and at the same time led to its industrialization. The first one is that in California land is a commodity, and farmland is not given special consideration in zoning, therefore there is always economic pressure on farmers to intensify their cultivation in order to pay off their bank loans, and then sell the land for real estate when they can no longer keep up the intensification rate, ie. when the land “gives out”. The second one is that with the increasing number of organic farms, each farmer is in competition with his neighbor to sell their crop for less then his/her neighbor. Another thing is that organic farming requires more inputs in the form of composting, hand labor, etc. and there is pressure then to hire the cheapest labor possible to reduce the cost of inputs just to “break even”. California happened to have a big migrant contract labor force already in place, and to be marginally profitable even organic farmers had to use it.

    There is so much in her book that I can’t do justice to it here. I highly recommend it to understand that the capitalist system is firmly entrenched and calls all the shots no matter how the food is grown, where it is grown and how it is marketed. If the effort to relocalize food became threatening enough Walmart, big suppliers, and other big grocery companies would be lobbying in D.C. to squash it.

    Walmart takes advantage of economies of scale to squeeze more profit out of its suppliers, farmers, and employees. But they’re not the only ones. As the article asks, “Are we going to let it happen, or are we going to demand better food and a better world?” After reading Agrarian Dreams it seems the way to do that is through the political system. As Guthman says, we need an entirely different Farm Bill, we need regulations that ban all non-organic farming. Farmers will do what they’re allowed. If all farms had to be organic that would level the playing field for them. Next we need to make regulations that allow farmers to form cooperatives for the purpose of buying affordable group health insurance. They do this in Wisconsin and it makes a big difference in the farm’s economic health. Next we need strong anti-trust rules for food middlemen and food retailers. In other words we need to use the political system the way that Walmart and others do. We need the political will to demand meaningful and transformative change at the national level so that we can truly eat local.

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