Small farmers, big supermarkets

Joel Salatin has an occasional column in Stockman Grass Farmer magazine. The title of this month’s installment caught my eye: “Goodbye, Whole Foods.” It begins like this:

Several months ago I reported in this column that our farm was selling eggs to our nearest Whole Foods store. I received emails chiding us for selling out to the evil empire, and also received many emails and phone calls from farmers who had tried to work with Whole Foods and found it too difficult.

Despite the warnings, hope reigns eternal and I truly hoped our experience would either be different or we could leverage our clout and punch through the difficulties. I was wrong. The whole attempt finally became intolerable, and we officially severed all relationship with Whole Foods in early January.

How did the relationship turn sour?

Whole Foods began with our eggs, which were a big hit. Immediately, Whole Foods wanted us to supply several thousand dozen a week to as far away as we were willing to go. But, of course, our cartons needed UPC and bar coding and a sexier label. We were willing to go along with the carton changes, but were more uncomfortable with the egg volume. We believe one of our distinctive success pillars is the balanced symbiosis among our various pastured meats, poultry, and eggs. We don’t want to become an egg outfit. Or a beef outfit.

When Whole Foods began asking for this volume of eggs, we immediately requested that rather than have us deca-quintuple our egg production, they begin handling our meat and poultry at the nearby store. Then it could all come together. That’s when things really headed south.

They sent their meat acquisition team out to see us and the federally inspected slaughterhouse we use. We had to hire a third party certifier for the abattoir at the cost of some thousands of dollars, which we were certainly not interested in. … Part of that certification was to sign an affidavit promising that no Polyface carcass could accidentally touch anyone else’s carcass in the chill room. Anyone who knows about chill rooms knows that this is a ludicrous requirement. It can’t be done, no matter what kind of paper trail you produce.

And then there was the requirement that Salatin’s chickens be killed by gassing, a goofy PETA-favored procedure which requires a separate killing facility and poses a danger to the workers. Salatin refused, and that was that.

The last straw was laid a few months later, when a Whole Foods customer wrote this question on a “customer interaction” whiteboard at the front of the store: “We love the Polyface eggs. Why don’t you carry their meat and poultry?” The answer, also written on the board, was: “Polyface production does not measure up to Whole Foods standards.” Whole Foods later apologized privately to Salatin, but refused to post a public apology.

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One thought on “Small farmers, big supermarkets

  1. I just found an online copy of Joel Salatin’s goodbye email to Whole Foods. And the email seems to have been edited for public consumption; on his blog, Allan Nation, the editor of Stockman Grass Farmer, mentions it: “His e-mail ended saying, ‘In my opinion, in its present philosophical and corporate state, (Whole Foods) is not really part of the solution. It is instead the most clever counterfeit in the healing food movement.'”

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