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In upstate New York, the Democrat and Chronicle has a fascinating piece about the Wegmans Organic Research Farm, a two-year-old facility that was designed to create a kind of thought leadership when it comes to organic agriculture.

According to the story, “the farm's mission is also to teach the company's employees, suppliers and consumers about organic agriculture and to nurture an appreciation of where real food comes from. (Danny) Wegman hopes children in particular will grow to appreciate fruits and vegetables as a way to counteract the obesity epidemic.”

Wegmans “contracts with more than 800 growers to supply its 71 stores with locally grown foods, but very few grow organically,” the story notes. And so the company decided to create a farm where it could learn about the challenges and opportunities inherent in organic farming, develop products that could be sold in its stores, and help its suppliers understand the unique advantages of an organic approach to agriculture.

Of course, sometimes nature presents its own challenges – rain and damaging hail have slowed the growing season this year and even damaged some crops. But that’s part of the experience…and puts the company, and hence its customers, in better touch with where food comes from and how it is grown.

Wegmans Organic Research Farm currently is growing heirloom tomatoes, potatoes and green beans, but fruit trees and asparagus also have been planted for future harvesting.

KC's View:
There’s a reason that Wegmans is one of the real class acts in US food retailing. The company has a sense of context – about the communities it serves, about the people who represent the company in its stores, and about the food that is such a high priority.

It isn’t just about making the sale and making the numbers. It is about the rare and precious role that a food retailer can play in the lives of the people who shop, work and supply goods to the company.