What should I know about how these cows are raised?

The farmers we are working with are raising grass-fed, grass-finished cows.  In other words, these animals will have been living on pasture for all of their lives.  They are not treated with any chronic low-level antibiotics, artificial hormones or other growth promoters.  The cows and pastures are not treated with pesticides, herbicides, pour-on substances or internal wormers.  They are given hay throughout the winter with additional high quality minerals and supplements if needed, particularly under severe winter weather conditions.

Is the meat certified organic?

Some of our farms are certified organic, while others are not.  They all, however, fit the above criteria.  For example, while some of our farms have cows are raised on pasture that has never been treated with pesticides and are occasionally supplemented with locally grown feed, they may not be certified organic. We call some of these sustainable farms “beyond organic.”

What is “beyond organic”?

Joel Salatin, a pioneer farmer in Virginia, has coined this term to describe his method of farming.  Although he played an enormous role in the requirements to qualify as “certified organic,” he believes that by accepting such a label, you as the consumer stop asking questions.  You assume, by virtue of that certification, that you know all you need to know.

Salatin brings up this point:  Would you ever visit a doctor simply because he or she was “board certified?”  Most people wouldn’t.  They would inquire from others who have used the doctor about the doctor’s other qualifications including education specifics, successes and failures, bedside manner, etc.  The same should be done, to the extent possible, with the food you ingest and give to your family.

While organic certification means that there are no pesticides used in the cows’ feed and that they are not fed antibiotics or growth hormones, it doesn’t necessarily determine that the animals are treated well, that they eat grass, or that the slaughter or shechita is performed with respect or kindness.

What organic doesn’t mean:

Your food is locally produced.

Your food is fresher.

Your food is more nutritious.

Your food is ethically raised or slaughtered.

Your food is produced by someone who cares about your safety or interests.

In addition to the ethical aims of our project, we aim to provide these benefits as well.

Our goal is to have as transparent a process as possible, with the possibility of co-op members being allowed organized visits to the farms or even the slaughterhouse if they would like. In this way, you can go as far as you would like to confirm that these cows are treated as we say they are.

Is grass-fed meat more nutritious?

Compared to grain-fed beef, research has found that beef raised exclusively on a grass fed diet:

*is naturally lean, with less than half the total fat and less saturated fat and 100 fewer calories in 6 oz.

*has as low as 2:1 ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 fatty acids where grain fed beef has up to 20:1 ratio or higher.

*has a polyunsaturated/saturated fatty acid ratio similar to wild game.

*is 3-5 times higher in conjugated lineolic acid (an omega 3 precursor).

*is 4 times higher in vitamins A and E.

*has more beta carotene.

*carries minimal risk of E.coli contamination compared CAFO cattle.

Will this meat taste better?

Grass-fed beef has a different taste than corn-raised beef.  For many people, it is far superior to the taste of CAFO beef.  For others, it is an acquired taste.

One of our farms includes this information in their brochure:

Tenderness and taste in beef, especially grass-fed and finished beef, is enhanced by reducing stress throughout the animal's life and during the final processing. The cows have a wonderfully peaceful life on our farm. They only wonder which pasture will be their next meal! Sometimes they are waiting by the gate to let us know their preference. We only take small groups of cattle for processing, often 4 or less. Each steer is processed individually using a USDA inspected facility for safe and humane processing.

Why is this project a co-op?  Why not just package it and distribute through my local kosher butcher or grocery store?

Ultimately, bringing kosher meat to consumers is an unbelievably complicated process.  Obviously, there is much more to deal with than simple USDA certification.  Each step of the process requires money, which is part of the reason that kosher meat is so much more expensive than non-kosher meat.  Because we would like to make this meat widely available at a fair cost, however, we would like to minimize as many middlemen as possible.  This also allows us to fairly compensate the farmer, so that your food dollars will sustain local farmers and maintain NY farmland from being further developed.

We also believe that local food should be a grassroots endeavor, and that it promotes community.  Though the Jewish community has a long tradition of coming together over food, we want to create a community of Jews all over the NY area that believe in eating sustainable, local agriculture.

We are willing to sell to butchers and restaurants as well as individuals.

Why does locally raised meat matter?

First of all, it gives the opportunity to meet the meat, so to speak.  We can ask questions of our farmers, visit, and support our own state economy and agriculture.  We do not have to rely on faceless certifiers to tell us our food is kosher, treated well, or healthy.   We minimize use of unsustainable resources like oil by having shorter distances to bring your food to you.  It will be fresher.  It is a way of using your food dollars to vote for better treatment of animals raised for food, supporting small-scale farmers dedicated to raising their animals well, and to protest horrendous living conditions of CAFO-raised animals.

For more info, check out Barbara Kingsolver’s book Animal Vegetable Miracle.

How will the cattle be shected?

In consultation with Professor Temple Grandin and her writings on ethical animal slaughter and shechita, which was developed with the Orthodox Union as well, we have developed a method by which cows can be slaughtered in a more humane upright position that is halachically permitted.

Our method incorporates the following principles of Temple Grandin:

*To have solid sides or barriers around the cattle to prevent them from seeing people deep inside their flight zones. This is especially important for wild or excitable cattle.

*To prevent lunging at the headgate, the bovine's view of an escape pathway must be blocked until it is fully restrained.

*Provide non-slip flooring.

*Slow steady motion of a restraint device in an effort to be calming, as sudden jerky motion excites.

*Use the concept of optimal pressure. Sufficient pressure must be applied to provide the feeling of restraint, but excessive pressure that causes pain or discomfort will be avoided.

*The entrance of the restraint device will be well lighted without glare into the eyes of approaching animals. The animal must be able to see a place to go.

*Other animals ideally will be within touching distance until the animal is restrained.

*Equipment engineered to minimize noise.

*Restraint devices designed to avoid uncomfortable pressure points on the animal's body.

*Livestock will be restrained in an upright position.  Live animals will never be hoisted by heads, feet or legs.

*Once restrained, shechita will occur within 10 seconds in order to minimize animal distress over restraint.

*Our shochets will be specially trained and committed to performing shechita in as painless and humane a way as possible to the animal.  A skilled shochet should be able to induce over 90% of the cattle to lose sensibility within 10 seconds of shechita.

We will continually reassess our process by using Temple Grandin’s published criteria for animal distress and make changes as needed.

If you care so much about the suffering of the animal, why not become a vegetarian?

In fact, some of the participants in this project (including myself!) have been or currently are vegetarians.  As a physician and as a neurologist, I realize that there are certain benefits to eating meat products, however, and that not everyone in the Jewish community is going to become vegetarian.  For this reason, we aim to create a supply of meat for those people who eat meat but also deeply care about the life and death of the cow (in addition to the very important health and taste benefits).  However, we support anyone who chooses to become a vegetarian.

Who will oversee the shechita?

We are very lucky to have two highly respected rabbis overseeing the process, both for natural certification and kosher certification.  More details will be provided on these rabbis before the initial order takes place.  Each person who has been selected to participate in this process has a deep spiritual interest in bringing this project to fruition.  For all of us, this is not “just a job.”

When will this meat be available?

Our goal is to make it available by early Spring.  Those who subscribe to our google group will be kept apprised of any updates and will have first dibs on the limited number of spots available when this project begins.

How much will the meat cost?

We do not have exact prices yet.  We very much hope to achieve pricing that will make this meat accessible for any kosher (or unkosher!) household that cares to buy healthy, locally and ethically raised and slaughtered meat.  However, we know that it will be impossible to match the prices of factory farmed meat.   I would say this will a case of “You get what you pay for.”  For more info on factory farmed meat and a peak into the food industry, take a look at The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan or Peter Singer’s book The Ethics of What We Eat: Why Our Food Choices Matter.

How much meat can I buy and what cuts will be available?

In order to simplify distribution, meat will be packaged as a combination of steak, roast, and ground beef.  Everyone will get a little of everything.  We will also include bones for making broths, soups, stews and cholent. We have not decided the exact amount of each package, but it will likely be in the vicinity of 30-50 lbs per member with a flat charge for the full amount.  Depending on the size of your family, how much meat you eat, and how much storage space you have, this may be too large.  We suggest splitting the amount with another member if you don’t have freezer space.  50 lbs take up approximately 1 full shelf of freezer space.  Chest freezers are ideal for long term storage as opposed to shelf freezers, but either will do.