When Wal-Mart announced plans to become the world’s biggest purveyor of organically grown food last week, the polite applause from the enviro gallery grated on my ears. (Here’s a spirited recent debate on Gristmill.) Even the New York Times editorial page could see through this move. While some greens cooed at at Wal-Mart’s magnamity, the Grey Lady unleashed an appropriately cynical analysis:
There is no chance that Wal-Mart will be buying from small, local organic farmers. Instead, its market influence will speed up the rate at which organic farming comes to resemble conventional farming in scale, mechanization, processing and transportation. For many people, this is the very antithesis of what organic should be…. For “Wal-Mart” and “organic” to make sense in the same sentence, the company will have to commit itself to protecting the Agriculture Department standard that gives “organic” meaning.
I have no doubt that Wal-Mart’s greenie admirers will hold the company’s feet to the fire on that one. But the USDA’s organic standards are already being drained of meaning. Rather than chide Goliath to behave nicely, enviros should consider helping David get his shit together. Check out what they’re getting up to over in Birmingham, Ala.
This Birmingham Business Journal article discusses Grow Alabama, an innovative community-supported agriculture program uniting the efforts of up to 30 farms and 2000 combined acres surrounding Birmingham.
After years of providing vegetables to area consumers, Grow Alabama is adding grass-fed chicken, eggs, and dairy to the mix.
What I love about the program is that it provides a nexus for small farmers and consumers to unite in an age of tightly consolidated wholesalers and retailers. I can guarantee you that the milk, meat, and eggs proffered by Grow Alabama will be infinitely more healthful, delicious, and environmentally friendly than the factory-produced “organic” stuff that Wal-Mart is pushing.
Identifying, supporting, and rebuilding this type of effort should, I think, rise to the top of the green agenda.