Every Day Low Prices


The NY Times reported yesterday that Wal-Mart is going to buy more local food, as well as rate the food in its stores for sustainability.  It is really amazing, the way Wal-Mart has turned around its reputation in the last five years. And I think Wal-Mart has a chance to redefine food in America, which today is an industrial product with two fundamental flaws…it tastes horrible and makes people fat.

Of course, I wonder if the amazing small farmers who sell at my local farmer's market are going to bother dealing with, I am sure, the ferociously cheap buyers at Wal-Mart. 

The Saratoga Springs farmer's market was recently named one of the country's top ten by the American Farmland Trust.  It is just spectacularly popular–on a summer Saturday, you have to shove your way through–and with good reason.  The vendors are knowledgable, artistic, life-affirming, fun.

I don't spend a lot of time there because I grow most of my own vegetables, but I was there just this week to buy cream for a last tomato soup of the season from the amazing Battenkill Valley Creamery.  As always happens to me at the farmer's market, I spent every single dollar in my wallet–on the Argyle Cheese Farmer's incredible yogurt, on another's guy's amazing chevre, on Saratoga Apple's incredible fruit and cider.  I didn't even make it down to the young Italian woman who in the last year has started selling stunningly good aged cheeses at some mortgage-the-house price. 

I like the idea of "every day low prices" for really great food.  But I think it's an oxymoron. There is a lot of labor in beautiful food, and I don't see how it can ever be cheap.


  1. Hopefully they do not rip people off like farmers markets in the Hudson Valley. Down here swiss chard is $12 pound, tomatoes $2 each, cukes $1 each etc etc.

    The TROLL

  2. Here’s the problem with that. When Walmart puts its paws into something like this, it changes what is sustainable agriculture into factory farming, which is unsustainable. To sell to Walmart, farmers have to meet a much higher demand, which is good for the farmers, but not for sustainability. So they will end up destroying the very thing they are saying they want to do.

    Plus all the other crap they carry is from China rather than made here in the States, so I won’t shop there. Oh, and they treat their employees unethically and as taxpayers we have to subsidize their employees through welfare and food stamps because they refuse to pay them a living wage.

  3. Wal-Mart decided to compete with independent garden centers several years ago. They did a great job.

    There are few independent garden centers left.

    Wal-Mart decided to scale back their garden department about a year ago.

    There are few places to send my DIY clients.

    Garden & Be Well, XO Tara

  4. Not to get into it w/Antigonum Cajan, but my parents often use the term “oxymoron” (among others that might be thought to be high-falutin’), & neither has a college degree. Don’t knock the level to which one can self-educate.

    Since Wal-Mart recently unveiled plans to open smaller food-focused stores, often in currently vacant storefronts they can get cheap these days, I’d bet that’s where they’ll focus their local foods. My opinion of them just went down another notch. It’s not enough to put Mom-&-Pop out of business. Now they are taking aim on bigger targets.

    Anybody else see WALL-E ? Wal-Mart is definitely trying to make this a B&L world.

  5. Thank you for this post. I don’t even know where to begin….you are right about “everyday low prices” being an oxymoron. Wal-Mart will not pay more than a certain amount for whatever food they buy; they will make an attractive deal to packing houses and distributors who purchase from many smaller farmers, but the farmer themselves will not see any higher prices. Once it’s in the pipeline, and farmers and packing houses are dependent on the market, Wally World will dictate prices and requirements (ie size, grade, color, sort etc), and woe betide the farmer who doesn’t follow suit, if she wants to continue to work with the packing house. And, it’s not so easy to jump ship; in addition to taking the time to farm, you have to find a new market or packing house, and be willing to meet those new demands, and with farming, you can’t “turn on a dime” to make changes on your farm.

    Bottom line? Growing food is not cheap, people! and growing diverse types of food (rather than monoculture) is less cheap. If you value food diversity and quality, buy direct from the farmer where possible, and keep them in business. I can’t think of anything more worth spending money on, or with a higher return, health-wise and pleasure-wise, than fresh healthy food! Yet we take cheap food so much for granted in this country.

    How can you keep your produce costs down? Here’s an idea: Be willing to buy the less beautiful, smaller yet still tasty fruits & veggies. Let your farmers (and farmer’s markets) know there is a market for this marginal produce.

  6. I do worry about the kind of price haggling WalMart might try with farmers, but hope the farmers have sufficient local markets that they won’t feel they have to cave in. I also don’t use the farmer’s market too much, but sometimes i really need them, and there are a number of things I can’t do for myself. It’s nice to know there is so much good food available locally.

  7. commonweeder, WalMart isn’t going to do any haggling with small local farmers; they will only deal with larger distributors, co-ops and packinghouses which are fairly large corporate entities and are set up to do the paperwork and delivery of product.

    If you want your small local farmers to survive and thrive, encourage your small local markets to buy directly from them, and keep supporting the farms with your purchases at the farmer’s market too. Buy a box of apples, for example (or onions, or turnips, etc), instead of a couple of pounds. It’ll be cheaper for you by the box, and they keep well in the garage or basement, and you won’t have to buy them at the grocery store for a while, and your purchase will be meaningful to the farmer.

  8. It is really amazing, the way Wal-Mart has turned around its reputation in the last five years. And I think Wal-Mart has a chance to redefine food in America, which today is an industrial product with two fundamental flaws…it tastes horrible and makes people fat.

  9. All the big box retailers have done a number on the marketplace with Walmart leading the pack. They are the future. Unfortunately we didn’t pay attention and they rewrote the rules while we weren’t looking. They will never be the only game in town but they aren’t going away either. No matter if you shop there the consumers attitude about what things are worth is influenced by this style of business. If Walmart sells product “A” for a dollar, good luck getting anyone to pay $5 for it at the local farmers market. The demand for cheaper and cheaper products has made it very hard for folks to make a living growing food – its a race to the bottom, who can sell it for less. Along the way the public gets accustomed to lower and lower quality and forgets to care about local jobs and incomes.

    On another note – as a wannabe foodie, it bothers me to read food blogs or websites that stress buying local and then also mention “look for the perfect” when telling you how to pick your produce. It’s the desire for unblemished that started us down this road. The small time farmer can’t produce enough “perfect” to satisfy the marketplace.

  10. So a question is, do you want Wal-Mart making decisions for the farmer, from selecting crops to “training” the farmer how to farm, with decisions about watering, pesticides, etc?
    “It (Wal-Mart’s program) will also provide training for the farmers and their laborers on how to choose crops that are in demand and on the proper application of water and pesticides.”(from the NY Times article)

    Yeah, they’ll “re-define” farming all right…maybe not the way the farmer or the consumer wants…and it won’t be cheap to do this; how much money do you think they will put into this program, and where do you think it will come from? Possibly the consumer, possibly the farmer’s bottom line, but not from the corporate pockets. Meanwhile, they will use all the right buzz-words and make all the right noises to get people on-board. When everything is in place and all the agreements have been signed, watch how quickly prices start to creep up and small farms, which have historically been vulnerable, will go under or sell out to Wal-Mart corporate. They will always make it work for them. They are not doing this for the good of mankind….

    Full disclosure: I am a small “under 20-hectare” farmer (who in America uses hectares as a measurement?!), who is already paying USDA for inspections yearly so that my crop can be used in the school lunch program. I would like to say that it will increase my bottom line, but we will see, it’s a new program. Meanwhile, I have to follow their farming requirements such as keeping wildlife out of my “crop production area” (I think that includes birds, ha!) and other “farming practices” which are impractical and suggest a lack of farming experience on their part. But I would rather work with MY government, than a private corporate interest like Wal-Mart, any day!

  11. Y’all can just ignore ffxiv gil’s comment above – it’s from a spammer. I hate that they try to be on-topic but end up writing something that’s weird and provokes genuine reactions from real readers.

  12. My husband, a full-time farmer, sells to Walmart. They pretty much dictate price and it rarely increases (in the 6 or 8 years we’ve grown for them, we might have seen one price increase. They more commonly want us to go down in price). They are about 30% of our business, thank goodness. Small growers will not be able to pay off the farm on Walmart prices. Period.

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