Tucked away in the Eastern Village Cohousing space in downtown Silver Spring is a small office that contains, among other things, a large poster of a cow eating grass. In speech bubble, the cow says, “Shalom y’all.”
The poster is the symbol of Kol Foods, which sells and distributes grass-fed, kosher meat across the United States through its website kolfoods.com. The company contracts with both local and national farms, and the meat is certified glatt kosher by the Star-K, except for some products that are certified by the Orthodox Union.
“Originally [the company name] was Kosher, Organic, Local Foods because I didn’t want to have to be pigeonholed into just doing meat,” said founder and CEO Devora Kimelman-Block. “The other nice thing about it is that it rhymes with Whole Foods, so I thought maybe it would, you know, bring up images of Whole Foods, which is not a bad thing.”
Kimelman-Block, who formerly worked in educational technology and was also a stay-at-home mom, started Kol Foods in 2007 as a local community-supported agriculture business after participating in a vegetable-only CSA with her synagogue, Tifereth Israel Congregation in Washington. She wanted to buy meat from a Jewish farmer, but the meat wasn’t kosher. So she contracted with local meat farms and hired a kosher slaughterer and kosher butcher. In 10 years, her business expanded from local to national.
“People come to us because they like beef, and they don’t want it to be bad for them,” Kimelman-Block said. “They say don’t eat hot dogs. Well our hot dogs don’t have all the preservatives. They don’t have the hormones or the antibiotics or all these chemicals. They don’t have anything. It’s just beef. So you can have your hot dogs and not feel guilty about it.”
Grass-fed beef refers to meat from cows who eat only grass and spread manure, which is then broken down by bugs and eaten by chickens. This differs from the traditional method of meat production, which involves raising cows in feedlots and poultry in concentrated animal-feeding operations, or CAFOs. People involved in the sustainability movement, such as Kimelman-Block, are critical of CAFOs because they use pesticides and growth hormones. The process also leaves the meat susceptible to bacteria such as E. coli.
Customer experience manager Gidon van Emden said there are pros and cons to producing grass-fed meat. For instance, a regular chicken is mature and ready for slaughter in six weeks, but the chickens on the farms Kol Foods partners with take 12 weeks to mature. This means the animals require more food and more time, which makes raising them more expensive. But the external costs associated with cheaper, unhealthier meat, he thinks, outweighs the up-front cost of producing grass-fed meat.
“All the poop that comes out of these feed lots goes somewhere, and usually it’s not the polluter that pays for that kind of stuff, for managing and cleaning it up,” he said. “That’s a cost you don’t see in the price of the beef, but it shows up in your tax bill.”
Kol Foods uses FedEx refrigerated trucks to ship its products frozen. A year-and-a-half ago they found a more substantial and more environmentally friendly shipping material than Styrofoam to protect the boxed food — burlap blankets made from cotton and jute.
“Forever and ever and ever and ever, we couldn’t crack that nut, because who wants to use Styrofoam,” said Kimelman-Block. “I mean you have to throw it out, it’s oil-based, it’s uch.”
Kimelman-Block said she is not sure what direction the company will go, but she hopes to increase its wholesale load, which is about 20 percent of sales. She said Kol Foods is a calling that puts activism into action.
“It’s advocacy, because if you just give speeches and people can’t actually act on those speeches, then, you know, that’s depressing.”