Sign of the Times

A friend shared this photo with me yesterday.

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The photo is fuzzy, but the sign reads “Virginia Grown. Proudly supporting Virginia’s farmers.”

As the local food movement increases in popularity, and as people are increasingly trying to make better food choices for themselves and their families, this kind of thing is becoming more common.

So is Walmart now offering locally-grown food rather than cheap industrial food shipped in from around the world?

My friend scoured the store in search of the Virginia-grown food and found NOTHING, other than a few sad looking herb plants. No Virginia produce, no Virginia meat. Nothing.

It seems the sign is just an attempt to mislead customers into thinking that when they shop at Walmart (now the world’s number one seller of food) they are supporting local farms. To be fair, the sign says “look for this sign to find locally grown items.” But will customers understand “this sign” to mean “THIS sign” (the large sign prominently displayed at the store entrance)? Will they shop with a vague sense that the store is selling Virginia-raised food (even though it isn’t)?

Years ago I blogged about being in a Walmart in Florida and seeing a huge stack of cartons of blueberries, beneath a sign that read “USA.” Not “product of the USA” or “grown in the USA.” Just “USA.” The fine print on the cartons revealed that the blueberries were all from Costa Rica.

Of course, corporations like Walmart aren’t interested in promoting resilient local food economies. They aren’t interested in providing locally-grown, delicious, nutrient-dense food to shoppers. They’re only interested in maximizing profit. Ideally Walmart would like to see everyone in the world completely dependent upon it for food. That means capturing “market share.” There is a market these days for locally-grown food. One way to capture that market is to actually sell locally-grown food. But a more profitable way is to continue to sell cheap industrial food, while misleading customers into thinking they’re getting locally-grown food. And of course customers who don’t want to give up their supercheap one-stop food shopping, can pretend they’re helping support local farms, rather than helping destroy them, by not carefully looking at labels and by letting signs like this one assuage their consciences.

Maybe I’m wrong about what is going on here. Maybe Walmart had lots of Virginia food on the shelves when it put up the sign, and it sold out. Maybe. But I highly doubt it.

But as frustrating as things like this can be, I see them as evidence of what my friend calls a coming paradigm shift. Walmart (and many other similar places) is trying to give the impression that it “proudly supports Virginia’s farmers” because it can see the writing on the wall.

The demand for good food isn’t going away.

We’re winning.

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26 comments on “Sign of the Times

  1. Steve says:

    That sign is a foot in the door. Now people need to ask “Where is this local food you’re promoting?”

    Like

  2. Deb Weyrich-Cody says:

    Up here, in the Province of Ontario [for those who don’t know, a province is sort of like a state, but bigger… We’ve only got 10 provinces and three territories in the entire country] food can be labelled as either “Product of Ontario” or “Product of Canada which means that it was packaged here – therefore becoming a product – but not necessarily grown here and be classified as “produce of Ontario”; in which case it would have the green Foodland Ontario logo… Confused yet? You’re not alone. But obviously it’s just more obfuscation like that in your friend’s photograph… ):
    Honey, a subject near and dear to my heart, can be labelled as “Product of Canada” and yet contain up to 50% from some other place of origin): but, will be guaranteed pure, if labelled as 100% Ontario Honey (with another logo). Sadly, I don’t know the legislation for any other Province/ Territory, but guessing it’s similar…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Bill says:

      The labeling laws here are captives of industrial ag, so they often can’t be trusted. And they’re getting worse. Congress just passed a law eliminating country of origin labeling on meat–so consumers won’t even be able to tell what country it came from, much less what state. And the DARK Act just passed by our House of Representatives makes it illegal to require GMO labeling, prohibits labeling a product as “GMO-free” absent a government certification (which small farmers won’t have) and even allows the products of animals fed a diet of GMOs to be labeled “GMO-free”–turning the meaning of the term on its head.

      All the more reason to buy from farmers you know and trust, whenever possible.

      Like

  3. BeeHappee says:

    I’ll have to stop by some Walmart sometimes, I bet they have an identical “Illinois Grown” here in the stores. I can hear Walmart exec ordering at the ad agency: we will need 200 signs for each state. . .
    Cannot blame Walmart. We need to ask. Just the way I ask questions of my local farmer, if every person in Walmart started asking where is that food, they would quickly do something.
    Last night we were at Fresh Thyme- a new Midwestern chain. they call themselves Fresh Thyme Farmers market and try to position themselves somewhere between Whole Foods and Trader Joes. Considering they are called ‘Farmers Market’ and use red tractor as their symbol, I found lack of locally sourced foods (light years ahead of Walmart of course, but still). If you look at their stores popping up quickly: http://freshthyme.com/our-stores you can see they are trying hard to fill that demand for local/organic food.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yes. There’s a grown in PA sign in our local Walmart too. Although I must confess to not looking for any produce because I rarely buy food there.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Bill says:

      Interesting. I hadn’t heard of Fresh Thyme–but stores like that are further evidence of our cultural shift toward good food. Naturally the big corporations and big Ag are going to try to profit off of that. We just have to be diligent. Ask questions, as you say.

      I’m sure you’re right about Walmart. Some marketing person decided it would be a good idea to put signs like that in all their stores. I wonder if they coordinated that idea at all with the people who make the purchasing decisions.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I was excited … at first. Then, I read “the rest of the story” in your blog. I guess a positive is that the big “They” are realizing the importance of locally grown?

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    • Bill says:

      That’s how I see. Of course they’re going to try to coopt the movement. They’re just reacting to what the market wants. But I’m not holding my breath waiting for them to pay local farmers a fair price for truly local food.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Whatever happened to “truth in advertising”??? I thought it was against the law to lie or mislead the public.

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    • Bill says:

      I think the “USA” sign I saw crossed the line. But as misleading as this sign is, it is probably too vague to be legally a lie. They say they’re “proudly supporting Virginia’s farmers.” What does that even mean?

      They don’t really have much to lose, since the people who would be angered at this don’t shop there anyway.

      Like

      • True – but
        it is most definitely “misleading” and the FTC specifically states on their website “When consumers see or hear an advertisement, whether it’s on the Internet, radio or television, or anywhere else, federal law says that ad must be truthful, not misleading, and, when appropriate, backed by scientific evidence. The Federal Trade Commission enforces these truth-in-advertising laws, and it applies the same standards no matter where an ad appears”.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. nebraskadave says:

    Bill, I haven’t seen any signs like that in the entrance of the Walmart stores but I have seen signs inside the store on sweet corn that states on which farm they were grown. HyVee stores do that for melons that are in season as well. However, just because it’s grown local doesn’t mean chemicals aren’t used just as in California. I can guarantee most of the locally grown grocery store produce is NOT organic in any sense of the word. The signs that I’ve seen don’t claim it’s organic or chemical free but just locally grown. But then organic is a fuzzy word in the advertising world, isn’t it. It doesn’t mean what it used to mean. It’s becoming more and more difficult to determine what is quality food and what is not.

    Have a great day in the White Flint Farm chemical free gardens.

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    • Bill says:

      You got that right. Some of the practices of the industrial organic operations aren’t much different or better than industrial conventional. I tell people to favor local over certified-organic. The key is to know and trust the people who are growing your food.

      Like

  7. smcasson says:

    We have a (seems to be) thriving Kentucky Proud program here, and you can find KY items all over the produce section and in cans (pickles, honey, etc) in Kroger. I haven’t stepped in a Wal-Mart in years, and haven’t missed it. Although Kroger is not much better as far as supporting “other-than-industrial-ag”, and Kentucky Proud does not mean anything regarding how the food was grown, only that it was grown in KY.
    I’m always glad to see KY products doing well in stores.

    Like

  8. avwalters says:

    It’s just greenwashing. Let them think it’s local. Not many people scrutinize labels the way I do. They vaguely know that local is better and they soothe their collective consciousness with the Walmart signs.
    It’s the best reason to shop at your farmers’ market or local co-op. The labeling at our co-op is incredible, where the priority is first–organic and then local. For local farmers who eschew chemicals (but cannot afford certification) there is yet another, special label. The Walmart signs are an exercise in corporate cynicism.

    Like

    • BeeHappee says:

      Being a cynic by nature, I do not even trust farmers markets. Here in deep affluent suburbia, some of the sellers at farmers markets sell a lot of imports that they do not grow themselves at all. So you end up paying 2 times more for Sam’s Club produce. I am so super happy with my CSA – where I go weed and pluck whatever I like from the ground, to be 100% sure it is local. 🙂 I am not sure why vendors are allowed to sell produce that is not grown by them at farmers markets.
      Bill, I just those October beans from CSA today, cannot wait to try them. 🙂 But they called them Taylor Dwarf beans, but they look like yours. Nice for succotash. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • Bill says:

        I googled Taylor Dwarf and yes they do appear to be what we call October beans! Hope you enjoy them. We’re about to have some with supper tonight. 🙂

        We’ve had problems here with fraudulent vendors at the farmers market. Our market is “producer only” but we’ve had people show up selling out of season produce they definitely did not grow. There’s been something of a crackdown this year and the problem isn’t nearly as bad as it was.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Bill says:

      Exactly. Well said. You said it better than me and captured my sentiment exactly.

      Like

  9. shoreacres says:

    I’d no more step into a WalMart for grocery shopping than I’d fly to the moon. In fact, I haven’t been in a WalMart for years, for anything.

    The good news for us is that we have a locally owned chain called HEB (the founder’s initials) that takes its Texas heritage seriously, and is very, very good about providing local and seasonal produce from Texas growers. Melons and avocados from the valley, blueberries from East Texas, tomatoes and strawberries from local farm all make an appearance — in season. It’s a wonderful place to shop.

    Everything that comes from Texas farmers is marked with a Texas-shaped logo. And best of all? People who also shop Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s tell me HEB is substantially cheaper. I have one of their Central Markets near to me, and it’s wonderful. It’s one chain that’s taken people’s changing taste seriously.

    Like

  10. EllaDee says:

    Ditto here http://www.smh.com.au/business/retail/aldis-grassfed-beef-claim-misleads-consumers-say-other-producers-20150819-gj2whl.html
    In Australia, thanks to media interest and consumer pressure (in light of some dodgy products hitting the shelves) labelling and advertising claims are under scrutiny. It’s not about talking the talk, but walking the walk.
    I think consumers are finally understanding when it comes to cheap imported products they are getting what they pay for, and by supporting them they are undermining their own good.

    Like

  11. Marketing tricks. Gotta double check. We haven’t been to Wal-Mart for just over 10 years. It happened gradually. We were tired of their tricks. We unintentionally stopped going as we didn’t enjoy the trip in so we’d find what we needed elsewhere; and once we realized it, we thought we’d see how long it took us to need to go back there. We haven’t needed to yet.

    Like

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