A New Pasture For Kosher Chickens
Wed, 08/25/2010
Special To The Jewish Week
Naftali Hanau raises and humanely slaughters kosher chickens. But the 10 in his backyard — those are strictly for eggs.
Naftali Hanau raises and humanely slaughters kosher chickens. But the 10 in his backyard — those are strictly for eggs.

 Maybe you’re thinking of making a pomegranate chicken dish for Rosh HaShanah — or perhaps some roasted chicken with honey.

Before you pick up your bird at Glatt Mart or Supersol, Naftali Hanau wants to tell you about an alternative option: Grow and Behold.

The company, launched this summer by Hanau, offers kosher pastured meats, which are delivered every two weeks to seven locations around the New York area, including the Upper West Side, Forest Hills, Manhasset and White Plains. Customers can also sign up for home delivery.

Grow and Behold is one of several humanely raised kosher meat and poultry businesses, including the Riverdale-based Mitzvah Meat and the Cleveland-based Green Pasture Poultry, to emerge in the past two years. And three-year-old KOL Foods, the Amazon.com of this growing sector, sells kosher, grass-fed beef and lamb, as well as kosher pastured poultry at the click of a computer mouse, shipping all over North America via overnight delivery.

Hanau, who is Orthodox but not chasidic, lives in the Chabad-Lubavitch stronghold of Crown Heights with his wife, Anna, and 10 hens, which the couple keeps in the backyard for “eggs and entertainment” — not for dinner.

Not every Brooklynite in his late 20s has such a passion for poultry, but for Hanau, chickens have become a calling. He’s already a veteran businessman, having run his own landscaping business between semesters of high school and college.

After studying economics at New York University, Hanau worked as an Adamah fellow at the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center in Connecticut, a program that integrates Judaism and sustainable agriculture. A stint at the New York Botanical Garden’s horticulture school followed, as Hanau planned on starting his own vegetable farm.

Soon, though, he became more carnivorously inclined.

“I’ve always been interested in where good meat comes from,” said Hanau, who reminisces about his meat-filled childhood in upstate Rochester, where he grew up around the corner from the kosher butcher.

After learning about sustainable agriculture at Adamah, Hanau became disillusioned with conventional methods of meat production. Most kosher products, he said, are produced under those methods.

“The only option really seemed to be to learn how to shecht, so I could slaughter my own animals and eat kosher meat,” said Hanau, an Orthodox Jew, using the term for Jewish ritual slaughter.

“I figured, ‘All right, I’m going to have a farm, I’m going to be around these animals — why should I be paying a shochet and flying him down when I should just do it myself?’”

So while Hanau learned horticulture, he also traveled to Crown Heights and a Scranton, Pa., factory to learn how to shecht. He learned the art of sharpening knives, checking chickens and slaughtering the fowl. After going through a testing process, he became a licensed poultry shochet.

Hanau didn’t stop there. He delved into the world of kosher meat, learning about nikur, the process of removing certain forbidden veins and fats from cattle. He worked in butcher shops.

“I just got deeper and deeper, and found myself learning the meat business from the ground up,” Hanau said.

“And the further I got into the meat business, the more Anna and I realized that maybe that was the place where we needed to be.”

Enter Grow and Behold, Hanau’s brand-new kosher meat company, where the chickens are “intensively pastured” before they reach your dinner table.

Anna does publicity work for the business, but also holds down a job at Hazon, a Jewish environmental organization that, among other projects, runs the “Jew and the Carrot” ethical eating blog and has created Tuv Ha’aretz, a national network of Jewish community supported agriculture programs.

What’s the difference between Hanau’s product and the typical organic, free-range chicken?

“According to the [U.S. Department of Agriculture], if the chicken is fed organic feed and there’s a small door on the coop where the chicken lives, and the chicken can get outside, that chicken can be called free-range,” Hanau explained.

“Now, that yard could be quite small — it could not have anything growing in it — and the chickens usually don’t go outside, because they don’t know they should be going outside, because they’re actually not all that bright — and they’re fed indoors.”

Hanau said his chickens, which are raised by carefully selected farmers in the Northeast, spend most of their lives on the pasture. They live in movable pens, so they can enjoy fresh grass every day — scratching, eating and poking around for bugs.

When the chickens reach the proper size, they’re taken to the David Elliot Poultry Farm in Scranton, where they’re slaughtered and processed.

Hanau’s poultry, sold under the brand “Sara’s Spring Chicken,” is certified kosher by the Orthodox Union, so the chickens go through the complex process required for halachic shechita — inspection, soaking, salting and soaking again.

Finally, they’re cut up and packaged — in Styrofoam, although Hanau said he hopes to eventually introduce a more environmentally friendly option.

The first deliveries were made earlier this month — more than 50 orders in the first week, said Hanau. He’s now gearing up for the Rosh HaShanah rush, with special deliveries in Bergen and Essex counties.

The chickens don’t come cheap — they cost up to eight dollars a pound, meaning a standard chicken cut in eighths will set you back $24. Subscription customers get a discount, around 12 percent off regular prices.

What to do if you’re interested in Hanau’s product, but can’t afford to spend that much money on poultry?

“You can do a lot with soup bones and with necks and with livers,” Hanau said. “You can eat less meat if you’re eating meat of higher quality.

“Our meat might be twice as expensive as the kind of meat you’re used to buying, but it tastes twice as good, and you might only eat half of it and you’re still going to feel pretty good.”

Actually, while kosher chicken prices fluctuate from day to day, his meat is more than twice as expensive as most conventionally raised kosher chicken, which can be had for $2.99 a pound at Kosher.com.

Hanau also wants to take a bite out of the red meat market, but he said he’s having trouble finding beef-processing plants and farmers who he’s willing to work with.

Both kashrut and ethics, he said, are non-negotiable for him — although customers’ reasons for buying his chickens may vary.

“We have customers who say, ‘I don’t even care about the kashrut, but I’m so happy with the way you guys raise these chickens, I can’t wait to buy them,’” Hanau said.

“We have other people, though, who say, ‘I stopped keeping kosher because I couldn’t find kosher meat that met my standards, but now I can keep kosher again.’ That personally really warms me. That’s a wonderful feeling.”