Sunday, August 06, 2006

Whole Foods Goes Local: Sort-Of

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.


Green Living Radio said...

Hello Erin:

If interested Organically Speaking a Seattle base website has released a conversation with Michael Pollan podcast (audio conversation). Interesting tidbits on farmers markets, CSAs, and more!

Some Podcast Show Note Questions:

Q) Why the price difference between conventional food and organic and how do we go about bringing down organic food prices?

Q) How can small local organic farmers remain local in a capitalistic system?

Q) What is the "Food Web" you briefly touch on in your book, The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals.

All the best,

Holistic Conversations for a Sustainable World Who Share Your Passion for:

* high quality organic food
* natural, sustainable lifestyle
* ecology
* holistic health

Martin said...


If you get a chance visit the West LA, Brentwood, or Santa Monica Whole Foods Markets.

I'm just a guy and a truck that deals with about 20 different family farms within 200 miles of Los Angeles.

The three Whole Foods above started buying from me last week. Last week I sold them Cocktail Fruit (a mix between a mandarin and a pomelo) from Cunningham Organic Farm in Fallbrook as well Meiwa Kumquats (very sweet, eat the rind and all!); two types of guava, Vietnamese and Hawaiian White, from 3Nuts Grove in Vista; and English and Snow peas from Ebby's Organics in Goleta.

The famers picked on Tuesday and I delivered to Whole Foods on Wednesday. I'm going to check today to see how the items sold over the weekend. Hopefully, people bought them up!


Martin said...

For my part every person should read it.