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    Wal-Mart's Produce Depts. Going Local

    The Supercenter giant is boasting that its partnerships with local farmers have grown by 50 percent over the past two years.

    As part of its promise to deliver lower prices to U.S. consumers, Wal-Mart Stores said yesterday it is committed to sourcing more local fruits and vegetables, and said its partnerships with local farmers have grown by 50 percent over the past two years, in support of its larger initiatives to support local economies, cut shipping costs, and provide fresh food offerings.

    Wal-Mart claimed it already is the nation's largest purchaser of local produce, with hundreds of growers across the United States supplying produce it sells in Wal-Mart Supercenters and Neighborhood Markets.

    During summer months, locally sourced fruits and vegetables that are both grown and available for purchase within a state's borders make up a fifth of the produce available in Wal-Mart stores, according to the Bentonville, Ark.-based retailer.

    "Offering local produce has been a Wal-Mart priority for years, and we're taking it to a new level with a pledge to grow our partnerships with local farmers," said Pam Kohn, Wal-Mart's s.v.p. and general merchandise manager for grocery. "We're committed to purchasing locally grown produce whenever possible."

    Beyond the benefits to consumers and economic opportunities for farmers, Wal-Mart's said its commitment to locally grown produce is helping to reduce "food miles" -- the distance food travels from farm to fork. Through better logistics planning, better packing of trucks, and local sourcing, the retailer said it expects to save millions of food miles each year.

    In addition, Wal-Mart is working with state departments of agriculture and local farmers to develop or revitalize growing areas for products like corn in Mississippi and cilantro in Southern Florida, which had not grown there before or which were once native crops.

    Wal-Mart said it is promoting locally grown fresh produce in its stores with signs that include official state-grown seals.

    The company said it is also dedicating space on its Web site to locally grown produce, at http://www.walmart.com/locallygrown. It is posting content such as farmer profiles and recipes there. Wal-Mart also posts a complete list of locally grown produce available in its stores, by state, at http://www.livebetterindex.com.

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