A vegetarian for more than a decade, Devora Kimelman-Block resolved to eat meat only if it was kosher, organic and environmentally ethical. And she couldn’t find any that fit those parameters.
“I had a kosher vegetarian kitchen because I didn’t want to support the industrial meat system,” she says. “There are all sorts of issues with industrial meat production, kosher or otherwise, including animal welfare, like raising animals in confinement, but also environmental issues and human health issues.”
When she couldn’t find what she wanted, she made it happen. These days the Silver Spring mom of four kids owns a share in a mid-Atlantic consortium of ranches and is the founder and chief innovation officer of KOL Foods, which bills itself as “the only source for Glatt kosher, 100-percent grass-fed regenerative domestic beef and heritage poultry” in the country.
Now grass-fed, organic, Glatt kosher meat is part of the family’s Shabbat meal every week, she says.
KOL Foods ships orders packed in eco-friendly, non-Styrofoam containers with dry ice. It delivers to designated locations for pickup in the District and Montgomery County. During the current COVID-19 pandemic, purchasers don’t need to leave the house for their kosher organic meat — it comes right to their doorstep.
Raised in Chicago in an activist family, Kimelman-Block, like her father and brother, is an educator. She worked in educational technology before founding KOL Foods in 2008.
Reading Michael Pollan’s 2006 book “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” which examined how what we eat affects our health but the health as well as the long-term sustainability of our environment, set her on this course.
“I’m an activist,” she says, “so I don’t want to just know things; I want to be able to act on them.”
When she saw that her local farmer’s market sold organic, grass-fed, sustainably raised meats and poultry, but none were kosher, “I went ahead and did a few things.”
First, Kimelman-Block worked with a local farmer to bring three of his animals to a kosher slaughterhouse. Then she set up a website for those who wanted to buy some of this meat.
“I really started this as a hobby,” she says, “because I wanted access to this meat. But once the website was up, people all up and down I-95 wanted it. I heard from people in California and other parts of the country, too.”
As the project evolved, the entire Kimelman-Block family lived for a summer on a farm to get an intimate understanding of sustainable agriculture.
The kosher meat business is complex because of the demands of specific halachic — Jewish legal — requirements on slaughtering and on which parts of an animal are kosher. Only the forequarters of a cow, for example, are kosher. Thus kosher-keeping Jews won’t eat a sirloin steak. That means kosher slaughterhouses have to find a purchaser for the non-kosher cuts as well as slaughter in a humane way with a single cut to the animal’s neck.
Glatt kosher means that the animal’s lungs have been examined and there are no defects and the lungs are smooth. But Kimelman-Block learned that while kosher slaughterhouses followed the halachah, as large factories they were neither as humane as possible, nor environmentally friendly or organic.
That’s where KOL differs from factory-produced kosher meat. “I’m working specifically in regenerative agriculture,” Kimelman-Block says. “What regenerative agriculture does is use agriculture to enrich soils, as opposed to deplete them. For the past 10,000 years, since agriculture began, it has been depleting soil of nutrients. But that doesn’t have to be the case. With a very new science, you can use agriculture to sequester carbon and make the soil more nutritious, which makes the animals more nutritious, which makes their meat more nutritious, which makes the humans who eat it healthier.”
She notes some parallels between environmentally sustainable farming practices and biblical practices. “One feature around regenerative agriculture is the time [farmers] allow the pastures to rest, which reminds me of the importance of … shmittah,” the sabbatical year when farmers must leave their fields fallow “There’s been a lot of interesting conversation in Jewish farming circles around how that really promotes regenerative agriculture.”
Today, Kimelman-Block’s mission serves a growing market for environmentally conscious, kosher observant consumers. “I think it’s important that people don’t have to choose between their traditional religious values and their modern ecological values,” she says.