In The Eye of The Beholder
Tue, 06/21/2011
Editorial Assistant
Naftali Hanau's backyard chickens are just for eggs - but the ones raised by Grow and Behold are humanely slaughtered for sale.
Naftali Hanau's backyard chickens are just for eggs - but the ones raised by Grow and Behold are humanely slaughtered for sale.

It has been almost a year since Naftali Hanau, backyard chicken-raiser and shochet, launched his own kosher, sustainable and ethical meat distribution company, Grow and Behold. He joined an ever-expanding field of kosher and conscientious meat suppliers, including Mitzvah Meat, KOL Foods and Red Heifer Farm, many of which appeared in the fallout of the 2008 Agriprocessors scandal, according to Judith Belasco, director of food programs at Hazon.

Grow and Behold, the newest kid on the block, is about to enter its second year of production and is gaining the attention of some significant clients.

Q: How much growth have you seen since you started a year ago?

A: We’ve seen great growth in our customer base and in our sales numbers. We’ve been exceeding our projections, which is a really wonderful thing, especially considering that we’re just selling poultry. We’ve expanded from delivering to five or six locations in the New York area to eight or nine, and we have four delivery sites in Philadelphia. We now ship nationwide.

People are quite price sensitive to a product like this; that’s where we have to make the effort to do a little bit of education and explain why our products are priced the way they are. For instance, we pay our farmers four to five times what conventional farmers get, and they raise their birds in batches of 500 to 1000, which is really quite small. That’s what allows them to give the birds the attention they deserve.

Are you hoping to offer red meat production in the future?

Kosher red meat production is unbelievably complicated. There are a very large number of steps and each one of them is critical. We’re very hard at work in getting our red meat production off the ground. We have a producer that has cattle almost ready for us, and we’re working on securing the right physical infrastructure — a slaughterhouse with the right humane equipment.

Do you service many institutional clients? Is this a population you are eager to reach?

Eden Village [the new Jewish farm camp in upstate New York] serves our chicken — they have since last year. We’re also the exclusive poultry provider of the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center [in Falls Village, Conn.]. We’ve worked with Hillel at Yale and we have shipped our chicken to the Hillel at University of Pittsburgh. Pardes restaurant in Brooklyn also serves our chicken.

When institutions — which are so cost conscious — make those decisions, they are making a statement: “We are going to pay more because this is a superior product, not just for taste but also ethically and sustainably superior.”

 

Why is your poultry not organic? Are you concerned that customers will go elsewhere for organic chicken?

The feed we give them is not certified organic, but it is grown locally, almost never sprayed and it is also GMO-[genetically modified organism] free. If our growers were to buy certified organic feed, it would raise the cost of our product very, very significantly.

Organic free-range chicken, according to USDA, is fed organic feed and not given any antibiotics. The free range part means that the birds have access to the outdoors — that means you could put 10,000 birds in a facility and have one or two doors that are open four hours a day to a little yard. Then you can call the chicken organic free-range.

We produce pastured chicken. The difference is our birds are managed to actively grow on the pasture and to eat what’s in the pasture. They’re outdoors on the field and every day they’re moved to new grass. I believe that the most important factor in the health of the bird and the quality of the product is how these birds live, not just their feed. Our birds exercise; that’s why they have so much flavor.

They’re eating the grass, they’re living the way a chicken is supposed to live, and that makes an enormous difference.