Sunday, July 06, 2008

Wal-Mart Commits to America's Farmers as Produce Aisles Go Local

NF Note: We applaud the efforts to bring local produce to our grocery shelves.

PRNewswire-FirstCall/ -- Wal-Mart today (July 1, 2008) announced its commitment to source more local fruits and vegetables to keep produce prices down and provide affordable selections that are fresh and healthful. The retailer also reported that partnerships with local farmers have grown by 50 percent over the past two years -- one example of the company's efforts to support local economies, cut shipping costs and provide fresh food offerings.

Today, hundreds of growers across the United States provide produce sold in Wal-Mart Supercenters and Neighborhood Markets, making Wal-Mart the nation's largest purchaser of local produce. During summer months, locally sourced fruits and vegetables that are both grown and available for purchase within a state's borders make up a fifth of the produce available in Wal-Mart stores.

"Offering local produce has been a Wal-Mart priority for years, and we're taking it to a new level with a pledge to grow our partnerships with local farmers. We're committed to purchasing locally grown produce whenever possible," said Pam Kohn, Wal-Mart's senior vice president and general merchandise manager for grocery. "Increasing the amount of local produce in our grocery aisles -- and adding clear locally grown signage -- reflects our dedication to offer the freshest products possible at great prices."

Wal-Mart announced its locally grown commitment in a Supercenter in DeKalb County, Ga. today. The event featured an in-store farmers' market with growers on hand to educate customers about produce. Just in time for the Fourth of July, Georgia Wal-Mart Supercenters have many of the ingredients customers need for a locally grown celebration: sweet Georgia-grown Vidalia onions for their Independence Day burgers, Georgia cantaloupes and watermelons for a fabulous fruit salad, and Georgia peaches for cobbler. A complete list of locally grown produce available by state is at http://www.livebetterindex.com/.

"Georgia is proud of its family farmers who lead the production of many important fruits and vegetables like our famous Georgia peaches and watermelons," said Donnie Smith, Governor Sonny Perdue's Agriculture Liaison. "Thanks to Georgia producers and companies like Wal-Mart, Georgia will continue to be recognized as a trusted provider of high quality fruits, vegetables and other agricultural products to feed America's families."

Georgia onion farmer Delbert Bland is one of the growers who participated in the Decatur event. His family farm has been in operation in Glennville, Ga. since the 1940s, and he is featured on in-store signage in the Atlanta area.

"We are proud to see our onions sold in Wal-Mart stores across Georgia and knowing that we are helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is an added value," said Bland. "Our business would not be where it is today without the support of Wal-Mart."

Economic Impact

Wal-Mart estimates that it purchases more than 70 percent of its produce from U.S.-based suppliers, making the company the biggest customer of American agriculture. This year, Wal-Mart expects to source about $400 million in locally grown produce from farmers across the United States.

Wal-Mart's relationships with U.S. suppliers also extend beyond its support of local agriculture. Beyond produce, Wal-Mart partnered with 61,000 U.S. suppliers in 2007 and supported millions of supplier jobs nationally.

Shortening the Distance from Farm to Fork

Beyond the benefits to consumers and economic opportunities for farmers, Wal-Mart's commitment to locally grown produce is helping to reduce "food miles" -- the distance food travels from farm to fork. It is estimated that in the United States, produce travels an average of 1,500 miles from farms to the homes of consumers. Through better logistics planning, better packing of trucks and local sourcing, Wal-Mart expects to save millions of food miles each year.

In addition, Wal-Mart is working with state departments of agriculture and local farmers to develop or revitalize growing areas for products like corn in Mississippi and cilantro in Southern Florida which had not grown there before or which were once native crops.

New In-Store Presence

Wal-Mart now highlights locally grown produce in its stores across the country. Customers will find it easy to recognize locally grown fruits and vegetables with signs that include official state-grown marks, indicating approval by their state's agriculture department.

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