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Crown Heights Homesteaders Reimagine Kosher Meat, One Chicken at a Time

By Sonja Sharp | October 15, 2012 9:07am

CROWN HEIGHTS — Naftali Hanau is a man who knows chicken. Not just the chicken at the heart of his organic meat business but this chicken, which he has raised for the past two years in his Brooklyn backyard. Some day in the not-too-distant future, this chicken will make delicious matzo ball soup.

"I'll slaughter them myself," Hanau said matter-of-factly. "I know them — I'm not going to let someone else do it."

While Hanau is far from the only Brooklyn homesteader who occasionally eats from his flock, he's probably the only certified kosher slaughterer in the borough raising birds in his backyard. Hanau and his wife Anna are also among the only producers of organic, pasture-raised Glatt Kosher meat in the world.

"My wife and I got our start in this business working on small scale organic vegetable farms, but on these farms they were also raising meat animals," Hanau said of Grow and Behold, the couple's 2-year-old kosher meat business.  "We were surrounded by all these delicious looking animals but none of them were kosher."

Though relatively few New York Jews farm, many face the same problem: while small-scale sustainable produce is just as kosher as its conventional counterpart and about equally popular among all stripes of shoppers, observant Jews like the Hanaus have far fewer choices when it comes to meat.

"Because of the intricacies of kosher meat processing and what’s involved in the technicalities of kosher processing, the cost of the supervision and the oversight — all the different factors of kosher production really prevent Farmer Joe from having his meat kosher-slaughtered under that supervision and selling it to you directly as Farmer Joe’s kosher steak," Hanau explained.

"We work with those farmers and we work with plants that are equipped to do kosher slaughter and processing, which takes special equipment and personnel."

What began as a line of poultry products (neither raised nor slaughtered by Hanau, who calls his backyard hens 'the ladies' and classifies their function as 'eggs and entertainment') soon expanded to beef and lamb. The animals are raised on farms in Maryland and Pennsylvania, and meat ships to eager eaters in San Francisco and Seattle, as well as along much of the East Coast.

"It's definitely a big and growing market," Hanau said.

The same way some non-Jewish customers look to kosher meat in search of a more closely monitored product, an increasing number of observant Jews are turning to Grow and Behold for cleaner, kinder, better-tasting cut.

"I'd like to say there’s three groups of people interested in our product,"  Hanau said. "One group are quality conscious — they want the best, most delicious meat. The other group is folks who are new parents and younger parents who want clean food for their children."

The third, he said, are ethical eaters who value the company's commitment to fair and humane treatment of both animals and the people who care for and process them — particularly in light of the scandal that erupted four years ago after an Immigration and Customs Enforcement raid at the world's largest kosher meat producer uncovered thousands of undocumented immigrants laboring in unsafe conditions.

"We have customers in the (western) part of Crown Heights where we live, but we also have customers in the Hasidic part of Crown Heights," Hanau said. "Someone who grew up Lubavitch is also going to have the same set of values."