What with droughts, slash-and-burn agriculture, overfishing and factory farming, sometimes it can seem like our food system is careening towards disaster.
That’s why Matthew Wadiak, co-founder and ex-COO of meal kit company Blue Apron, decided to found Cooks Venture. Launched yesterday, the company will attempt to pull the food system back from the brink through regenerative agricultural initiatives, starting with… chickens.
But not just any chickens. Cooks Venture’s birds are heirloom and pasture-raised and have markedly better livelihoods than factory-farmed chickens, who are sometimes raised in cramped, unsanitary conditions and/or injected with steroids. Heirloom chickens, like heirloom tomatoes, also have more pronounced, unique flavor profiles than your average supermarket bird.
Poultry preorders opened today. The chickens cost anywhere from $15 to $20 each, depending on how many you buy. Orders will ship in July of this year, and a press release from the company states that it also plans to sell the birds via grocery store and restaurants by summer 2019.
Chickens are just the first step for Cooks Venture, whose end goal is to show how regenerative agriculture can slow — or even stop — climate change by sequestering carbon in soil. Next up, they’ll start raising and selling cattle, pigs, and vegetables, all sustained on the same plot of land as the chickens. The company operates out of an 800-acre farm in Arkansas and has two processing facilities in Oklahoma.
Cooks Venture plans to create a holistic system of ruminant animals (cows, pigs), “monogastric” animals (chickens), feed crops, and a variety of vegetables. The feed crops will sustain the chickens and cows, whose manure will fertilize the ground for vegetables, all of which will help trap carbon in the soil and take CO2 out of the atmosphere, reducing greenhouse gases.
Cooks Venture is far from the only one doing regenerative agriculture. Small farms around the country promote this system as sustainable both for the environment at large and the farm itself, since this kind of closed-loop system keeps the soil healthy.
It seems like Cooks Venture’s role, then, is not really to prove that regenerative agriculture is good for the planet (it is), but to give it a higher profile. With Wadiak behind the project, it’ll likely be seen and heard about much more than the farm that drives an hour to sell free-range poultry at your local farmers market.
The big question — both with Cooks Venture and regenerative farms everywhere — is if this sort of uber-sustainable venture is economically sustainable. From a per-pound perspective, Cooks Venture’s birds are on-par with organic whole chickens from most grocery stores ($3.99/pound). However, at 20 bucks a pop, not everyone will be able to afford one of their chickens, just like most people can’t afford to buy 100 percent of their groceries from a farmers market. There’s also the question of whether farmers, especially ones dedicated to a single crop or animal, could afford to shift towards regenerative agriculture practices.
As climate change leads to higher temperatures and more droughts, regenerative agriculture might become less of a radical choice and more of the only choice. If so, we’ll be glad we have templates like Cooks Venture and others to lead the way.