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Eco-Glatt: Repairing the World Through the Food System

Pull into the Center for Eco-Judaism just a few miles outside Pueblo, Colorado, and be prepared for a hearty greeting from Rocky, the Pyrenees Mountain Dog who doesn’t realize quite how big he is. There are chickens running busily about the property, caring for their young, eating plants and worms, laying eggs, and fleeing the smaller dogs that make game-chasing their sport. A few hundred yards in the distance is a thriving flock of Barbados Black-Bellied sheep, and off in another direction are the few acres dedicated to raising organic produce. Rocky’s owners, rabbis Elisheva Brenner and Hersh Saunders, are likely nearby. These two unsung heroes of the New Jewish Food Movement wear many hats, and under each brim they dedicate themselves entirely to impacting their daled amot, their piece of the world.

While the 2008 Agriprocessors raid in Postville, Iowa ushered in a wave of consciousness about the realities of the kosher meat industry, only a very few viable alternatives to conventional options have surfaced. New methods and standards of certification, such as Magen Tzedek and Tav HaYosher, have arisen to assure consumers of the ethical treatment of workers and raise awareness, and some of the larger meat companies have begun selling certified-organic products. A handful of new companies such as Kol Foods and Grow and Behold have taken root and begun selling more ethically-raised kosher meat, but there is more to be done — the status quo won’t truly change until more people start acting on their convictions. Fortunately, when the founders of the Center for Eco-Judaism see a problem, they do something about it.

Rabbi Saunders, prosthodontist, congregational leader, and rancher, is also a practicing shochet, or Jewish ritual slaughterer. When a group of families from the Hebrew Educational Alliance in Denver wanted to source their own local chickens, they went together to a nearby farm for processing and hired him to do the shechita. He has also done a few runs of grass-finished beef and lamb which were sold through Eco-Glatt, his wife’s brand-new and growing company.

Saunders is incredibly caring and intentional about his work. He studies with Temple Grandin, a renowned expert in animal handling, and has worked with her to find the best ways to care for animals both before and during shechita. Grandin’s methods help keep the animals calm, which assures a less traumatic experience and reduces the levels of stress hormones that negatively affect meat quality. Rabbi Saunders is also one of the only people in the country who perform nikkur achorayim, the removal of forbidden fats and nerves in the hind parts of the cow, which allows those who keep kosher access to cuts of meat that are otherwise impossible to come by. But the most important aspect of becoming familiar with Rabbi Saunders’ work is not any of the details on paper, but watching the process and seeing firsthand the gravity of taking an animal life.

Some of Rabbi Brenner’s several hats include exceptional baker, vegetable farmer and high-powered attorney. Most recently, she and Nalini Indorf-Kaplan of Boulder founded Eco-Glatt, purveyors of “the healthiest, holiest meat on earth.” Eco-Glatt is one of a handful of companies to sell kosher grass-finished meat. When Eco-Glatt meat is not coming from Rabbi Saunders’ flock, it comes from the regional livestock auction which takes place at the ranch just over the fence from the Center for Eco-Judaism. While the finished product costs significantly more than mainstream industry meat, the price is an accurate reflection of everything that goes into bringing high-quality food to the table.

Rabbi Brenner and Rabbi Saunders are exemplars of what is needed to change the food system and to move towards tikkun olam, partnering with Divinity to repair the world. Together they create practical solutions to complex problems, reaching out along the way to those who are willing to be touched. By living their beliefs, they are working to create a better future, for the land and for generations to come.

Editor’s Note: Elisheva Brenner will be on a panel with Farm Forward’s Aaron Gross and other sustainable meat providers at the Hazon Food Conference, August 18-21, at UC Davis in California. [Register today] to join the conversation and be a part of this amazing community!

Yael Greenberg is about to embark on a quest to discover what it takes to become a farmer. She currently works as the food educator for Ramah Outdoor Adventure in Colorado.

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