I don't dispute the problematic nature of Walmart's million dollar donation to the urban agriculture group Growing Power. It certainly feels wrong to give a corporation with a questionable relationship to food reform such a prime opportunity for positive PR. As Andy Fisher, co-founder of the Community Food Security Coalition said of Walmart on Civil Eats:
It is common knowledge that Wal-Mart demands its suppliers to charge them rock bottom prices, which are not economically viable for family scale farmers. With regards to sodium reduction in their products, one highly placed official at Kraft told me, "Wal-Mart is far behind the competition. Other food manufacturers have been working in this area for years." With regards to their apparently altruistic intentions to build in food deserts, this is little more than a Trojan horse packaged in shiny PR gift wrap.
Walmart's attempts at "buying its way in" to the Good Food Movement feels intrusive. And there is something ominous about the idea that Growing Power could find itself relying on the kindness of Walmart to make its payroll. At the same time, we shouldn't be so shocked by this development: There is an obvious motivation behind Walmart's act of charity.
According to the Milwaukee Business Journal, which reported the donation, Walmart has plans to build 15 stores in the southern Wisconsin area -- not very far from Growing Power's Milwaukee location. The math (from Walmart's perspective) is simple: It's spending $1 million for community goodwill that will, it hopes, defuse the kinds of grassroots hostility that can arise in communities when a multinational chain moves in and all but decimates the small businesses in the area.