Walmart turns over a new leaf as it embraces local produce

MANCHESTER — Inside the cavernous new Walmart on Highlands Boulevard Drive, grocery manager Russell Davis stands with a gleaming bounty behind him. Lettuce from California, blueberries from Michigan and grapes from South America.

Then there’s the store’s hottest grocery commodity these days — pumpkins and corn grown in Brunswick, just a couple of hundred miles away.

« Our customers want locally grown products, » Davis says. « They all ask for it. They all want to know: Is this from Missouri? »

In the last several years, locally grown food has become the « it » consumable as more shoppers, concerned about the environmental impact or the safety of their food, seek out products from closer to home. And retailers, from Whole Foods to Safeway, have obliged.

 Even Walmart, now the nation’s largest supermarket chain as well as retailer, has gotten into the local scene, embarking on an effort to procure more of its produce from local growers.

« If you can get local food in there, you’ve really arrived, » said Mary Hendrickson, a professor of rural sociology at the University of Missouri Extension and advocate for regional food systems. « It’s not just a fad. It’s something that everyone’s taking seriously. »