Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Oh Walmart, can you really change?

The program, which Walmart calls Heritage Agriculture, will encourage 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.

As with most Walmart programs, the clear impetus is to claim a share of consumer spending: first for organics, now for locally grown food. But buying local food is often harder than buying organic. The obstacles for both small farm and big store are many: how much a relatively small farmer can grow and how reliably, given short growing seasons; how to charge a competitive price when the farmer’s expenses are so much higher than those of industrial farms; and how to get produce from farm to warehouse.

Walmart knows all this, and knows that various nonprofit agricultural and university networks are trying to solve the same problems. In considering how to build on existing programs (and investments), Walmart talked with the local branch of the Environmental Defense Fund, which opened near the company’s Arkansas headquarters when Walmart started to look serious about green efforts, and with the Applied Sustainability Center at the University of Arkansas. The center (of which the Walmart Foundation is a chief funder) is part of a national partnership called Agile Agriculture, which includes universities such as Drake and the University of New Hampshire and nonprofits like the American Farmland Trust.* To get more locally grown produce into grocery stores and restaurants, the partnership is centralizing and streamlining distribution for farms with limited growing seasons, limited production, and limited transportation resources.

Walmart says it wants to revive local economies and communities that lost out when agriculture became centralized in large states. (The heirloom varieties beloved by foodies lost out at the same time, but so far they’re not a focus of Walmart’s program.) This would be something like bringing the once-flourishing silk and wool trades back to my hometown of Rockville, Connecticut. It’s not something you expect from Walmart, which is better known for destroying local economies than for rebuilding them.

Sunday, February 14, 2010


I spend an inordinate amount of time on planes and an even greater time in transit. I end up being an observer of people having real lives more than I get to have a real life. The other result of this life job is having significant limbo time to read. I tend to read novels, but given the length of the flight and my general level of energy, I will also read magazines. Today on the way to Nashville, I read The New Yorker and then Harpers Magazine both liberal, elitist fare. They were interesting until I got to this.:
According to the NCIS documents, each prisoner had fashioned a noose from torn sheets and T-shirts and tied it to the top of his cell’s eight-foot-high steel-mesh wall. Each prisoner was able somehow to bind his own hands, and, in at least one case, his own feet, then stuff more rags deep down into his own throat. We are then asked to believe that each prisoner, even as he was choking on those rags, climbed up on his washbasin, slipped his head through the noose, tightened it, and leapt from the washbasin to hang until he asphyxiated. The NCIS report also proposes that the three prisoners, who were held in non-adjoining cells, carried out each of these actions almost simultaneously.
I have no idea what to do with that. I keep reading it, thinking that it will change. There is no way adults put that in a report and thought it would be believable. They are better at covering shit up than this right? We don't seriously have the most expensive military industrial complex ever convened unable to come up with a more plausible story for prisoner deaths than that? It gets worse, further reporting indicates that all three of these men plus one other that died shortly after them were all victims of wrong place wrong time and were shortly to be released.

So I sit in my fugue state contemplating the fact that my government is killing people for no apparent reason and then doing an embarrassingly bad job of covering it up and wonder what in the hell are we supposed to do? I have to imagine that there are a lot of people who will read the article and feel horror (if they aren't already too cynical), and while its lovely that decent people feel horror, it hardly does a lot about it. You could try to protest, but they got plans for that as well. Writing letters to the editor of newspapers that are hardly read any more seems unlikely to generate a revolution.

So I sit and keep re-reading an account of my democratically elected but apparently deeply corrupt government committing murder and wonder what it is I am supposed to do. Because clearly it is the general silence of average people that enables this to occur. There is no viable outlet for outrage. Which of course means that you must accept that they can do it to you as well and your family and loved ones will be able to do nothing. Nothing.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


As storms pound the coast and February marches on, I feel as if my body has gone into hibernation. I read stuff that normally would have amazed me and my response is muted, quiet. I wonder if I have made the progress I meant to make, but even with that currently feel as if it will figure itself out regardless of whether or not I analyse it. I hope this is hibernation and not me giving up on things in general.