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Walmart Goes Local

How many reusable bags does it take to tote $1 billion worth of local produce?

In just a few years, locavores might find themselves shopping at a once unthinkable destination: Walmart. The retail behemoth announced new goals to dramatically increase its patronage of local and sustainable farms, according to a New York Times article on Thursday.

While Walmart began to source food from local farms a few years ago—to save on fuel costs and boost its public image—the new goals represent a much more serious effort to focus on local. Plans include investing $2 billion globally in infrastructure for local food distribution, doubling the percentage of local produce sold in American stores, and selling $1 billion worth of produce from smaller, local farms in Walmart's emerging market locations.

Another piece of the new plan is the proposed "Sustainability Index." According to its website, Walmart will ask its suppliers—more than 100,000 worldwide—to fill out a survey about their companies' practices in the following areas: material efficiency, energy use, relationships with local communities, and consumption of natural resources. Walmart will use the results to evaluate each company's level of sustainability and create a guide for shoppers.

New expectations about sustainability from Walmart could have a big impact on its suppliers' practices. When Walmart decided to limit packaging waste five years, large companies like Proctor & Gamble altered their designs to meet Walmart's new criteria.

But what will this mean for local farmers, the local food movement, and farmers' markets? Will economies of scale be good or bad for business? I'd love to hear your thoughts below.

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