I've been hearing rumors for months: that Walmart was about to make official the program I first wrote about in the March Atlantic, when no one else had heard of it. And I, the first to be a Walmart skeptic, was plenty skeptical. The program aimed to increase the amount of locally grown produce Walmart sells, "local" meaning with a day's transport of one of its huge distribution centers. And it would improve the transportation infrastructure to make its distribution centers more easily available to the small- and medium-sized farmers who are usually shut out of big chain stores, not just because they don't grow enough of any one crop but because they don't have a way of getting it from their farm to a warehouse.
When I wrote the piece, "Heritage Agriculture"—a misleading name, because it refers not to heirloom varieties but to regional agricultural heritage—was still in its test phase, which as with anything Walmart tries meant it already had huge potential impact. And when I wrote it I came in for many Et-tu-Brute attacks from all quarters. Wouldn't Walmart seduce and abandon the small farmers it said it really, really wanted to help, as it (and its reputation-minded rivals, too) had done in the past? How serious were they, and what would the actual impact be on small farmers who didn't play by its rules?