Jeff Bezos and his multi-billion-dollar company, Amazon, made news again this week when he announced the purchase of Whole Foods, an upscale grocery store chain that specializes in organic, natural selections.
Amazon has spent nearly two decades perfecting the mail-order business, allowing people, like myself, to bypass local retailers, traffic and the check-out line by simply ordering the product on my Amazon mobile app. Experts estimate nearly half of all American households use Amazon on a regular basis.
For those Americans who value convenience, Amazon’s entrance into the food world should be a welcome move. Now the retailer that specializes in delivering socks, diapers and books will be able to ship pasta sauce, dinner rolls and juicy red apples right to our front door.
As a mother of two ornery and energetic little boys, nothing makes me happier than to discover ways to make my everyday routine, errands and shopping trips easier. But as a farm wife, Amazon’s announcement is heartbreaking.
I must back up and note that Amazon is not the first business to disrupt the traditional grocery store model. A handful of companies have begun offering meal delivery services, essentially eliminating the need to visit the store or do the prep work for meals – food arrives in a box already sliced, diced and measured. And large grocery store chains have also made it possible to still purchase groceries locally but eliminate the need to step into the store with online ordering and curb-side pick up. All of these services are offered in the name of convenience, but they only serve to further remove the consumer from the farm.
While there is no substitute for seeing the crops in the ground and the animals at pasture, only seeing food in pieces or piles does nothing to help families connect fields to corn or orchards to applies. If children grow up not knowing what a papaya looks like in its original form – on the tree – then how do we expect them to know what a GMO food is and why need to use crop technology to avoid pest infections and disease?
To fully understand the need for crop technology, herbicides and pesticides, people must understand how food is grown. A recent poll found that 7 percent of U.S. adults believe chocolate milk comes from brown cows. Americans have basically become agriculture ignorant and taking the grocery store out of a family’s weekly routines means food now comes from the same brown box as shoes, coffee makers and hairspray. It has no originals, no life cycle and no environment.
The Economic Impact of the Grocery Store
Grocery stores do more than provide access to food. In my home state of Kansas, grocery stores are economic drivers and corner store of small, rural communities. Kansas State University estimates that each rural grocery store in Kansas has an average economic impact of a half-million dollars. Nationally independent grocery stores contribute a combined estimated $30 million in both salaries and taxes. Remove grocery stores from communities and you lose food access, jobs and financial contributions.
As an agriculture advocate, the grocery has served as a meeting ground of sorts, a place that we, as farmers and ranchers, can access consumers, talk about products and their and explain all we do to care for the animals and the land. As more grocery stores close their doors or consumers simply avoid physical locations all together those meeting places become fewer and fewer. Schools are devoting less hours to nutritional lessons and plant science courses and restaurants are creating their own – often false and misleading – narratives on how food is grown and raised.
I know the grocery store is not the most convenient or exciting item on the weekly to-do list, but it’s a vital component to connecting consumers and farmers while educating the public on what our food really looks like. Without a baseline of understanding or familiarity with our food system, consumers are at risk of completely removing themselves from the production and distribution process and taking yet another step away from the farms and ranches and produce the goods now arriving at their front door.