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Life Arts    H4'ed 3/9/11

Devora Kimelman-Block, KOL Foods and The Virtues of Grass-Fed Meat

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Then I got folks coming down from Philadelphia to purchase my meat and so I set up a Buying Club in Philadelphia. Then I set up about 5 more in NYC, NJ, Baltimore and DC. But I kept getting requests from folks outside these places that I couldn't accommodate. I want kosher eaters to have a sustainable option whenever they buy meat. So I moved to online ordering and shipping via mail. Now I do home delivery, buying club delivery and I also supply caterers.

How did you learn to do all this? Do you have a background in business? Agriculture? Animal husbandry?

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I had no background in business - but I do now! I came from the educational non-profit world and while I miss the stability there, I am having a lot of fun in the for-profit world. I had no experience in animal husbandry or farming - but I do now! I have always had an attraction to good food and where it comes from. My grandfather came from a depression era farming background. When he was rejected from WWII for health reasons, he became an airplane mechanic outside Columbus. Even after he moved to the city, he always continued to garden extensively.

Part of it was an underlying concern left over from the depression of not having enough food and part of the reason why he gardened was because what he produced tasted so good. I have always been a pretty flexible eater, but as a child I hated tomatoes. My grandfather took me into his garden once when I was in high school - plucked a tomato off the vine and ate it on the spot. He had juice and seeds dripping down his chin. "That is how you know its really a fruit," he said. Next thing I knew, I was squirting and drooling along with my grandfather. One of the gifts that I am giving my children through my business is a relationship with the natural world. The connection to the natural world that we lost when we became disconnected with where our food comes from.

I love the image of the two of you in the garden, tomato dripping from your chins. How do you choose your farmers and suppliers? I'm sure you're very picky. And don't you need a lot of them to handle all your customers?

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We have a farmer spec sheet which they need to adhere to. They need to be 100% grass-fed. They need to use no pesticides, fertilizers, hormones, antibiotics, arsenic or animal by-products as a part of their program. There are a limited amount of 100% grass-fed animals in the US because there is such demand since 100% grass-fed meat is so much healthier and better for the environment. But there is more and more interest among farmers, so as demand grows, supply grows. Although there is a two-year - or so - delay because it takes that long to grow a herd.

Do you personally travel around the company, visiting farms to make sure they're on the up and up?

I have a couple of Amish partners who know what I am looking for and whose farms I have visited quite a bit. They also sometimes act as brokers between me and folks that they know. I trust them to visit the farms on my behalf.

Okay. Now we have the background. Let's get down to the nuts and bolts, which is money. Kosher meat is much more expensive than nonkosher meat in the first place. Doesn't that make the price of healthier kosher meat out of reach for the average kosher consumer?

Conventional meat is so highly subsidized from multiple angles (both in its inputs and outputs) that its true price is several times higher than its cost at the grocery store. My meat is not government subsidized - there are no externalities - so what you are paying for is its true cost. I would turn your question around and say that my meat is not expensive, but that it is its true cost. And that conventional feedlot beef is cheap in multiple usages of the word.

Also, Americans spend the smallest percentage of their income on food than they ever have in history. In an age when spending more than $100 a month on cell phone usage is considered a necessity, I think that the average folk could spend more so that the food that they eat is good.

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Touche! Have you been surprised by the level of consumer interest in KOL Foods? And is your name - KOL Foods - playing on the popularity of Whole Foods?

There is quite a lot of interest which is the way it should be!

KOL Foods is a play on Whole Foods. Kol is also a Hebrew word meaning "all". So it is a stretch, but it sort of means Whole Foods. Also, before I started mailing meat around the country, it was an acronym Kosher, Organic, Local.

What haven't we talked about yet, Devora?

It is important to mention the huge environmental degradation due to confinement meat. It is one of the core reasons why I started the business.

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Joan Brunwasser is a co-founder of Citizens for Election Reform (CER) which since 2005 existed for the sole purpose of raising the public awareness of the critical need for election reform. Our goal: to restore fair, accurate, transparent, secure elections where votes are cast in private and counted in public. Because the problems with electronic (computerized) voting systems include a lack of (more...)

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