by Hilary Oliver
Locavores looking for produce grown close to home have a new shopping option: Walmart. The Bentonville, Ark.-based national superstore announced on July 1 that it has increased its partnerships with local farmers by 50 percent in the last two years, and during the summer months, one-fifth of produce available in Walmart stores is grown within the store's state.
Walmart also introduced a food-miles calculator to help its buyers cut the distance food travels, and touted the company's work with growers and state departments of agriculture to help fill supply gaps, cutting down on food miles. Walmart estimates it buys more than 70 percent of its produce from U.S.-based suppliers, making it the largest purchaser of American agricultural products.
While these locally focused actions save Walmart energy and transportation costs, they also appeal to consumers who are increasingly aware of the distance their food travels from farm to fork, and the corresponding environmental impacts. On a different level, the National Cooperative Grocers Association is providing support for a group of retailers that have been focused on local foods for years: natural foods co-ops. The Iowa City, Iowa-based association launched the national "Eat Local Challenge" in June to encourage shoppers to think locally. NCGA published recipes, information about connecting with farmers and other tips at www.eatlocalamerica.coop.