Environmental and agriculture groups, growers and some of the world's biggest food buyers -- Wal-Mart, Sysco and Sodexo among them -- have developed a new coalition to incorporate sustainability from the field to the table for specialty crops.

More than 30 companies and organizations from around the country are members of the Stewardship Index for Specialty Crops, which will develop a system for optimizing the supply chain for growing, distributing and selling a number of specialty crops -- in this case, a broadly defined group of crops including fruits, vegetables, nuts and horticultural crops.

The stewardship group has set an ambitious goal for what aspects of the food chain should be addressed; among the list of issues to be addressed are employment processes, pest management and pesticide use, greenhouse gas emissions, packaging use and impacts on soil, water and stormwater.

Among the groups involved in this effort are some of the country's biggest environmental NGOs: the Environmental Defense Fund, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the World Wildlife Fund, as well as ag-specific groups like the Community Alliance with Family Farmers and the American Farmland Trust.

Growers and farm trade associations are also well represented in the group: the Produce Marketing Association, the United Fresh Produce Association and the Western Growers Association are among the trade groups involved, and growers like Bransford Farms, FreshSense and the DelCabo organic cooperative are also members.

On the buying and retail end of the life-cycle, the coalition has brought some of the country's most powerful forces together: Wal-Mart, Sam's Club and Wegman's are among the retail chains involved, and Unilever, Sodexo and Sysco have also joined the coalition.

Agriculture has long been a hub of the green movement, but only recently have larger companies gotten involved with sustainable food projects. A report published in February found that agriculture could have a significant positive -- or negative -- impact on global carbon emissions, and in July, Wal-Mart announced a goal to purchase more local produce for some of its stores.

The Stewardship Index for Specialty Crops is currently seeking comments from public and private groups to help shape the next steps and what elements of food production it focuses its efforts on. More details are on the group's website at http://www.stewardshipindex.org.