When we heard a while back that Wal-Mart had pledged to carry more local produce — it promises that by 2015, 9 percent of what it carries will fit that description — we assumed it was a high-profile publicity stunt. But it seems the megachain’s move isn’t merely designed to attract crunchy types: It’s actually cheaper for Wal-Mart to source produce locally, reports The Wall Street Journal. The grocery giant instructs managers to buy produce grown within 450 miles both to save on diesel “food miles” and to reduce spoilage (though for labeling purposes, “local” generally means grown in-state). So that’s good news, right? Well, sort of.
The retail giant’s sheer size means that it’s able to commission farmers to grow particular crops, rather than being subject to what’s available in a given area. For instance, this summer, thanks to Wal-Mart’s influence, jalapeños are now being grown in 30 states, double the number where they were found last year. “They drive a hard bargain in Bentonville, but I know what I am getting paid before I put something in the ground,” one Yakima, Washington, farmer who’s producing jalapeños for the grocer told the WSJ. So there’s potential for some farmers to win out. But if someone in Yakima starts growing jalapeños, it might mean they’re no longer producing tomatoes or peaches. There’s bound to be some shifting of agricultural patterns if the grocer begins to flex its muscle more and more, and do we really want Wal-Mart to be the one making these decisions?