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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Supporting local farmers benefits economy, environment

    Shopping at Walmart might save money, but there’s a price to pay.

    In this sluggish economic recovery, Walmart and other major supermarkets are certainly more appealing to American consumers than local retail stores. There’s one on nearly every corner and most of the time you won’t find a store with cheaper prices. Convenience is everything and Walmart has it.

    While Walmart’s quest to make low prices presses on, many local farmers who once thrived are suffering the consequences.

    Walmart stocks its shelves using a method called conventional farming. This method uses synthetic chemicals to increase plant growth, making it difficult for organic farms to keep up. According to Aaron Cameron, a Tucson farmer who owns Elderberry Edibles with his wife Jenna Vallier, conventional farming “has stripped America of most of its farmers except factory farmers.” Vallier added that big box stores take away the chance that small organic farms can operate or exist.

    Local farmers aren’t the only ones who face negative repercussions. Small businesses take a hit as well. According to a 2009 study by Loyola University Chicago’s Urban Research and Learning Center, the opening of a single Chicago Walmart in 2006 forced 82 businesses in the adjacent area to shut down in just two years.

    By choosing to shop at massive stores instead of local businesses, we have granted these national chains free reign to tank local economies, kill jobs and leave the surviving stores struggling.

    According to research by the Institute for the Study of Labor, Walmart store openings cause three people to lose their jobs for every two people they hire. Another study by the Mississippi University Extension Service found that small supermarkets and discount variety stores who didn’t go out of business suffered sales declines of 10 to 40 percent where new Walmarts opened.

    On top of it all, most of the money that Walmart and other chain stores produce isn’t kept in the local economy — it’s shipped away. According to a 2004 study by Civic Economics, an economic analysis consultancy, only $43 for every $100 of consumer spending at chain stores remains in the same city. Local businesses, on the other hand, retain $68 in the local economy.

    “Keeping our resources local is really important because it recycles instead of mines,” Vallier said. “It builds community.”

    Some communities have taken note of Walmart’s black hole effect on their economies and protested new store openings. In June, for example, thousands of citizens in Los Angeles, Calif. marched against the opening of a Walmart in a downtown neighborhood.
    Similar protests have surfaced in other cities.

    Instead of buying our food at massive retail stores like Walmart, we should bring our money to local retail stores and farmers markets to help boost the economy and support small organic farms.
    Economic perks aren’t the only advantage, as both our soil and health benefit when we choose to avoid big box stores and their conventional farming methods.

    “If crops are made available in huge quantities at once,” Vallier said, then “they’re not grown in a natural or sustainable way.” Conventional farms are designed to quickly to produce enormous quantities of a narrow range of crops, but in the process, rip nutrients out of the soil. “To them (conventional farmers), soil means nothing. It’s just a medium to inject fertilizers and pesticides.” Conventional farms erode the once nutrient rich soil faster than the soil can be replenished. Then, when the ground is no longer fertile, factory farmers just move on to another plot.

    But conscientious local farming, like what Cameron and Vallier practice, respects the environment by using sustainable and natural methods to grow food. “We are shooting for a farm that gives back to the soil,” Vallier said. “We’re not using more resources than our fair share.”

    Conventionally farmed food is just as nutrient-starved and chemically saturated as the soil that cultivates it. In addition, this food sometimes travels hundreds of miles before reaching store shelves. The food you buy at Walmart might be weeks or months old, Cameron said. Consequently, the food we eat from Walmart is not nearly as healthy as it should be.

    The nutrient levels in locally grown food are off the chart compared to what you get from big box stores, Cameron said.

    There are four farmers markets now open across town. So instead of picking up your next batch of groceries at your usual big box store, try out one of the local options.

    “We’re not doing anything new,” Vallier said. “We are only doing what was once done. We’ve all just forgot what that was.”

    —Michael Carolin is a journalism and creative writing junior. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu or on Twitter via @WildcatOpinions .

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