Whole Foods may have a whole new problem

Next time you’re out doing your weekly grocery shopping at Whole Foods, there’s something new to look out for. (Okay… I kid. I kid. But somebody has to be shopping there.) Shoppers there are no doubt used to seeing stickers and signs assuring them that the products they are purchasing are 100% “organic” (whatever you take that to mean) or that it’s labor friendly, locally grown or any other number of socially conscious labels. But now, under a new points system being imposed on the farmers who provide them with their produce, you’ll be able to select options which range from “good” to “better” to “best.”

That sounds pretty straight forward, right? And who is going to pick “good” when they could have the “best” on their plate, assuming you’re well enough off to shop at Whole Foods in the first place? But the aforementioned farmers are not fans of the new system at all.

The New York Times said a Whole Foods in Capitola, Calif., had given a “best” rating to a non-organic variety of asparagus from Mexico that was selling for $4.99 a pound. Nearby, organic asparagus from Durst Organic Growers, which was selling for $7.99 a pound, was labeled “good.” The New York Times said Jim Durst, the farmer, laughed when we was relayed the news of his lower ranked stalks. “Why our asparagus is ‘good’ and not ‘best,’ well, maybe we didn’t fill in the blanks correctly, or didn’t have it done on time,” Mr. Durst told the Times.

This is truly amazing. No… I don’t mean the rating system. I mean that somebody out there is actually paying eight bucks a pound for asparagus. I just checked with Price Chopper and it’s three dollars. (And even that seems high.)

You can see the problem for the farmers, though. Whole Foods shoppers may be affluent enough to pay eight dollars for the precise, socially acceptable produce they desire, but if it’s all organic and has the right community organizer pedigree, why would they pay an extra three dollars a pound for something that’s good when they can have the best for less?

As Forbes explains, the company’s rating scheme has a point system where the grower will need to achieve a score of 220 to qualify for the coveted “best” rating. And complying with those socially conscious demands will cost them money. The requirements include “protection of farm workers” and conservation of water… particularly if you’re in California. And none of this will likely have any direct impact on the look, taste or freshness of the product when it gets to your table.

Having grown up in a small, private farming community myself, I’m actually sympathetic to anything that gives the family farmer a chance to compete and sell their products. And a system where one store caters to people with exclusive standards which include the value of “locally grown” products can be a plus. But when the social consciousness aspect of it makes it too expensive to “qualify” to sell their product to hipsters, the benefit essentially evaporates. Whole foods may have finally taken their political correctness a step too far even for the farmers who rely on them.