The Whole Foods in Glendale, CA sells items from the following local farmers: Be Wise Ranch, Beck Groves, Cahuilla Farms, Cuyama Orchards, Goleta Valley Organics, Green Kingdom, Johannes Farms, Nagatoshi Organic Farms, New Union Mushroom Farm, Windrose Farms, Chino Valley Eggs, Mauk Family Farm
Last week, The Food Section reported that Whole Foods was increasing its commitment to local farmers and local foods. Today when I visited the store the change was obvious--at least in the signage. Placards plaster the windows, extolling the benefits of local eating and highlighting individual farmers.
In the produce section, every item's label indicates its state of origin (in a few instances, the city too) and how it's grown--conventional or organic. The store considers anything that has "traveled no more than--and often much less than--seven hours from the farm to our facility" locally grown. It also includes locally made products in the mix--bread, booze, salad dressings, even candles.
Though a list of local vendors is available by the cash register, the names of farmers aren't displayed on the labels. This is where it gets complicated for the consumer--I can read the list of farms represented, but I have no idea what produce comes from which farm. Overall, a step in the right direction for the store and I hope the commitment extends beyond the nice window-dressing.
Background Info or "So, why'd Whole Foods do it?"
In his recent bestseller, The Omnivore's Dilemma, Michael Pollan severely questions the environmental benefits of "big organic"--large corporate-esque farms that ship their products all over the world. He identifies the Whole Foods chain as a key player in "big organic" and critiques the store for not doing enough to support small, local farmers. In many passages in the book, Pollan lumps Whole Foods and Wal-Mart together in one phrase describing the villains.
After the book was published, John Mackey, Whole Foods CEO wrote an open letter to Pollan defending the company and its practices (see Pollan's response and Mackey's response to the response). It's an interesting exchange and I think both men make valid points. Pollan's book definitely shook my world view and I'd highly recommend reading it. However, I think there's a continuum of virtue and we all should do the best that we can. I feel better about going to the farmers' market than Whole Foods, but I feel better about going to Whole Foods than Albertson's, and sometimes, in my busy life, that's what happens.