Food News

Walmart Fresh-Picked Tomatoes Rushed to Stores and Other Fairy Tales

Walmart issued a press release today with promises of a new fresh produce guarantee, which raises the question of the previous policy regarding fresh produce. Was fresh not already a guarantee?

Well, there is a "100 percent money-back guarantee" for produce, meaning if your banana didn't live up to reasonable banana standards, you can return it with the receipt for a full refund, "no questions asked." But Walmart is extending the program even further now. (Or they've just issued a longer press release.) Their new produce-intense initiative looks to work directly with farmers in "key growing areas where the company has produce-buying offices."

Also, independent teams will be deployed to check produce departments in stores each week to ensure only the freshest fruits and vegetables are on Walmart store shelves.

Again, don't we always check for fresh produce ... ah, never mind.

Perhaps even more meaningful is the pledge to extend the local effort: "Walmart works closely with local growers in the U.S. to fulfill its commitment to double the company's sales of locally grown produce by December 2015."

In Walmart's defense, there are many complications with truly providing fresh local produce on that large of a scale, particularly in hot, drought-ish Texas. However, earlier this year on NPR's The Salt, writer Abbie Fentress Swanson looked at small farmers' relationships with Walmart and found that for the most part, it didn't work out.

An organic vegetable grower said the company wasn't willing to "pay the price to get the quality that they get from local produce," which reflects an ongoing challenge for small farmers: asking customers (including Walmart) to pay more for local, seasonal, organic produce.

Walmart sees it as passing on the savings to customers. From their website, "Since 2011, we've saved our customers $2.3 billion on fresh fruits and vegetables," which also meant "supporting the farmers in local communities." As the NPR articles pointed out, eating healthy isn't always the cheapest option. And maybe that's OK -- a phenomenon that just may behoove us to embrace.

One of the ways Walmart plans on cutting costs, or provide savings, is through efficient trucking routes and by getting rid of the middleman.

Perhaps a little research would help confirm if their intentions are good. Walmart has a webpage with charming pictures and stories of farmers they use in stores now. One happens to be in Texas, the Pedernales Valley Farms, which is a 102-acre farm located near Fredericksburg, where tomatoes are harvested after "they've been allowed to ripen on the vine," then the produce is "rushed to our stores." The family farm is one of only eight featured on the Walmart site.

So, I call.

Pedernales Valley Farms: "Hello?"

Me: "Is this Pedernales Valley Farms?"

PVF: "Yes."

Me: "Do you guys sell a lot of produce to Walmart?"

PVF: "What? No. Well, very rarely."

That took all of 10 seconds.

A further conversation revealed that they sell "indirectly, only sometimes, but always through a middleman."

Again, the copy reads, "rushed to the stores."

Maybe they forgot to check that page before issuing their new farmer-friendly press release. But, perhaps we shouldn't be so critical if the company is trying. But, is Walmart really trying to help us all be healthier and prosper from the fruits of our labor or ... oh, it's silly to even finish that.

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Lauren Drewes Daniels is the Dallas Observer's food editor. She started writing about local restaurants, chefs, beer and kouign-amanns in 2011. She's driven through two dirt devils and is certain they were both some type of cosmic force.