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Whole Foods goes small

The king of organic retailing sets out to find - and nourish - small farmers, bakers and other artisans.

Dough made from local grains at Amaral's artisanal bakery
While Phinney is the first full-time forager for Whole Foods, several of the chain's other regions are watching her closely and plan to establish similar positions within the year. Nor is Whole Foods the only food giant hoping to cash in on the buy-local movement - it's just the best organized so far.

One of Phinney's main worries: building expectations that she can't fulfill. "There simply isn't room for us to carry every good local jam or salad dressing, no matter how good it is. We still have to have shelf space for national brands," she explains. While Phinney's instinct is to encourage all the artisanal farmers she meets, she knows that the task "isn't just to get more local products into the store; it's to get more local products sold." She worries aloud as she drives back to Boston in the winter dark after a day of visiting local farmers: "I ask myself, What happens when a product I love doesn't sell? If it hasn't moved in four or five weeks, it's out of the store. How will I feel when we have to yank it?" Or more to the point, how will the farmer feel?
How to contact Whole Foods:
Whole Foods regional numbers and addresses are listed at wholefoods.com.
Susan Phinney can be reached at susan.phinney@wholefoods.com

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