A CLUTCH of chickens peck hungrily at the once derelict ground transformed by several Jewish Boulderites.
“A friend of mine one day decided to start this, so we did,” recalls Aaron Schneider, one of several co-op co-leaders, the group who makes decisions about finances and operations.
“And then next, people wanted to start a goat co-op, so we did.”
“It’s really grass roots,” says Bob Wing, the unofficial caretaker and another co-leader of the group. “The idea was ‘who wants to start a chicken co-op and who wants to start a goat club?’ And all these people showed up.”
“It just magically happened.” Schneider said.
Well, maybe not magic, but certainly good fortune; The Oreg Foundation, a Boulder non-profit, owns some 30 acres of land in Boulder and donated a portion of it to the co-op.
The foundation’s hope is to facilitate Jewish organizations to build on the land, “but nobody can afford to build anything, so actually, this is the first thing that’s going on the whole property. I think they like it,” explains Wing.
“I love it,” says Emily Warm, another co-op co-leader. “I love having the fresh eggs. I love the idea that we are building community around this project and I love the idea that we are helping grow some of our own food and that’s why I got involved.”
The chicken and go co-op, along with the honey bees and a community farm are integral parts of being Jewish, according to Schneider.
From collecting eggs to slaughtering the birds, it’s all part of tikkun olam, repairing the world, which to Schneider, is the most important mitzvah of today’s era.
“For me, it’s a deep worship to be the change and empower people to have options other than dependency on industrial systems; options that support Mother Earth and empower people to take ownership of their food sources and connect to nature.”
Not only do co-op members care for the chickens and collect their eggs for food, they will also be part of the birds’ end of life. After several years, the chickens’ egg laying slows down dramatically. Rather than sending the animals to a sanctuary, the co-op decided to give each member 2.4 chickens (they’ve got a statistician in their mix).
And while the members can decide to keep the animals as pets, they can also choose to have them for dinner.
One of the co-op’s co-leaders received a grant to fly in a rabbi to oversee the slaughter, which will occur later this year.
“Fifteen people studied to be bird kosher slaughterers and so we’re going to use the people certified in this process to slaughter the chickens ourselves,” says Schneider.
Why go to all the trouble? Because it’s the Jewish way. “The idea was to reclaim the spirit of kosher slaughter: talk to the chicken before hand, name it before you slaughter it, say ‘you’re going to be a sacrifice and we hope we’re worthy of your death.’ And that’s how it relates to tikkun olam.”
That and the process of a quick, pain-free kill define kosher. It’s part of treating animals humanely.
AS for the goats, well, they’re about to give birth.
And therein lays another challenge for what is kosher and part of tikkun olam: do you take away the babies immediately or do you let them stay with the mother first to bond and then take them away?
“The co-leaders have had a lot of discussions about what method is the most humane and least painful. [We’re leaning toward] keeping the moms with the babies for two weeks and not taking any milk from the moms at that time.”
After two weeks, says Schneider, they would move the animals into the same quarters but with a fence between them so the babies wouldn’t be able to milk directly from their mothers.
“The humans will milk first in the morning and then the babies will get access to the mom all day long. And then at six weeks, once they start eating alfalfa, is when we’ll give them away to another farm.”
Why not keep the animals? The reason is twofold: the city has limits as to how many animals can live on a property and second, and perhaps more importantly, it’s part of being Jewish.
“At least ten percent of what we take in is given away,” says Wing. It’s tzedakah. They give away eggs, produce from their community garden, and even honey comb from the honey bees. Last year’s honey harvest didn’t amount to much since the hive was young, but what they had, they gave away. “We went to all the rabbis in town and they each got a little piece of comb.” Wing hopes this year they’ll have more honey for co-op members.
The co-op has 14 shares for each the goats and chickens and a total of 50 members. There is a morning share and an afternoon share, seven days a week.
Co-op members participate by watering and feeding the animals, collecting eggs, milking the goats, and cleaning out the barn every so often. The fee to join is around $150 per share.
The chickens produce enough to provide each member with a dozen eggs per week in the summer and eight to nine eggs per week in the winter. “That’s still below the cost of the eggs at the grocery store,” says Wing.
Chickens, he says, are one of the easiest things to do in terms of reclaiming ownership of things with which we have an intimate relationship. “So we want to get eggs. We don’t just want to buy cage free organic eggs from Whole Foods; we want to have relationships with our chickens who give us the eggs.”
Copyright © 2012 by the Intermountain Jewish News