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Turning Post-Walmart Food Deserts into Food Forests

 
Joe Battle
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I'm out of country right now and I just caught wind of the sudden closures of 150+ Walmarts across the United States. I read the sad, sad articles about the "Food Deserts" that the closures have left behind. I also read about former Mom & Pop Store owners lamenting that it's too late for them to make a comeback and serve their communities. Walmart had already crushed them out of existence and its too hard to get back in the game.

Then I had a thought...

What if residents reclaimed these Walmarts and their vast, VAST parking lots to build community Permaculture gardens and food forests. Someone out there reading this has to be close to someone on a city council facing this... So I thought I'd throw out the idea. What better way to beat the Wal-monster than with good, locally grown, community owned, organic food. I'm sure that Walmart shoppers haven't seen that in awhile.

Share your thoughts here... and maybe one of you will have the influence to make it happen somewhere.
 
Joe Battle
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For the record, a Walmart can occupy as much as 18 acres (or 7.3 hectares) of land! That's a crazy amount of space to work with. Maybe we start by turning the building itself into a supersized greenhouse. But what do you do in a 4 acre greenhouse? Sounds like a Permaculture Designer's dream!
 
Steve Farmer
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Joseph, great idea. My second reaction was it will never happen due to economics of needing to buy/rent the real estate and make the conversions with the payback coming some considerable time later.

But now I'm thinking it's such a great idea and vision that if it were a crowdfunding project it would have a serious chance of success.
 
Dan Boone
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I live in one of those new food deserts. Our local Walmart closed last week. And as I sat down to check the forums I was contemplating today's resulting dilemma. I want some yogurt because my guts are mildly unhappy. Our convenience and dollar stores do not sell it, and the one remaining grocery store is unsuitable for buying dairy, because they deface the "sell by" marks and keep ancient separating moldy dairy filth for sale in the coolers. So I was toying with the question of whether I wanted the yogurt badly enough to burn two gallons of gasoline.

That said, unless the Walton heirs are feeling uncharacteristically charitable, I don't see how the abandoned Walmart stores could hope to become available for permaculture products. Walmart sells or leases its old stores, it does not donate them. Our store will sit empty until it finds a buyer, but it won't become anybody's greenhouse. It's a nice idea, but I don't see how it could be a practical one.

 
John Polk
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It is hard to figure out if WalMart will sell the properties, or just try to lease them out.
If they are strapped for cash, they go up for sale. Otherwise, leased.
I can guess that they will not sell them for less than they have invested in them.

The sad thing is that they have done this mostly in smaller market regions, but only after they have driven out most/all of the competition. Entire rural communities will be turned into food deserts.

Perhaps the good news will be more residents growing their own, and getting some laying hens. The local farmers might do well as people no longer have cheap, convenient places to buy their groceries. These people will never again trust gigantic international corporations. They will probably join the movement towards community based businesses. In the long run, it could be the best thing to happen in many of these communities. Eat local.

 
Joe Battle
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Steve Farmer wrote:Joseph, great idea. My second reaction was it will never happen due to economics of needing to buy/rent the real estate and make the conversions with the payback coming some considerable time later.

But now I'm thinking it's such a great idea and vision that if it were a crowdfunding project it would have a serious chance of success.


Great points Steve. I thought of the same problems. And Dan, I hear you on not being able to count on Walmart charity. But it's my understanding (and I could be wrong) that some of the newer stores are built on conditional land leases. Many of the stores that closed were opened within the last few years. Maybe there's a loophole that might allow a city to reclaim the property or to cry "foul" against Walmart.

With that, maybe a city council might be able to change the zoning on the property to effectively make the place a "public park." I don't know much about how such things work, but my mind lives in Ideal-Land. Regardless, it will probably be awhile before Walmart finds a buyer for 2,000 acres of facilities and land. Also the cities are already facing huge tax revenue losses. Maybe they can just cut their losses and start a public food park... Who knows, that could create some attraction from neighboring towns.

And Steve, I like your thinking about crowdfunding. I don't have a lot of dough, but I'd be the first to give to that project.
 
Dan Boone
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John Polk wrote:The sad thing is that they have done this mostly in smaller market regions, but only after they have driven out most/all of the competition. Entire rural communities will be turned into food deserts.


The one here was open for precisely one calendar year. The community was already very depressed, but we didn't actually lose any grocery competition. Town had two dollar stores and the world's worst fifty-year-old supermarket, and it still does. Nobody shops at the decrepit supermarket who doesn't have to -- nobody has in years -- but I guess all the folks in walking distance with no cars kept it alive despite the new Walmart a mile away. We actually had one of the dollar stores open up a new larger premises in response to the Walmart, so I guess we're net ahead, but it's still pretty grim.
 
Dan Boone
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Joseph Bataille wrote:But it's my understanding (and I could be wrong) that some of the newer stores are built on conditional land leases. Many of the stores that closed were opened within the last few years. Maybe there's a loophole that might allow a city to reclaim the property or to cry "foul" against Walmart.

With that, maybe a city council might be able to change the zoning on the property to effectively make the place a "public park."


You might be right about some of them, but my understanding here is that Walmart bought the land outright.

I do know a little bit about regulatory adverse possession, which is the legal term for when a government tries to set restrictive land use terms on a private landowner for the public benefit. Long story short, eventually the town would have to pay the fair market value of the land. This town won't do that.



Joseph Bataille wrote:It will probably be awhile before Walmart finds a buyer for 2,000 acres of facilities and land.


Again, the only one I know about is the local one, which was one of their small-footprint "neighborhood market" stores. It sits on just 2-3 acres with a very cramped parking lot. Finding a buyer or a lessee in this depressed little town is going to be a neat trick, but that's what I expect them to try to do.
 
Todd Parr
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John Polk wrote:These people will never again trust gigantic international corporations. They will probably join the movement towards community based businesses. In the long run, it could be the best thing to happen in many of these communities. Eat local.



Man, I wish I had your faith. I'm guessing that one year, two years, ten years, from now, Walmart could open a new store in the same exact spot and people would be lined up and the parking lot full before the doors opened for the "Grand Opening". People have short memories, and convenience, low prices, and a free ride are what much of the population strive for.
 
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