By Allyson Dickman and Anath Hartmann
WASHINGTON – Many of Maryland’s Jewish residents are keeping kosher and keeping up with the latest food trend this High Holiday season –buying eco-friendly, organic and locally grown kosher staples, a movement some are calling ‘eco-kosher.’
Last year, Silver Spring resident Devora Kimelman-Block started Kosher Organic-raised Local Foods, or KOL Foods, a meat distribution service that sells kosher, organic and locally raised beef and lamb in bulk.
Kimelman-Block’s customers are part of a growing breed: ecologically aware, health-conscious consumers willing to use their free time to peruse weekends-only farmers’ markets, pay more for kosher meat raised on farms with free-range policies and forgo exotic fruits and vegetables in favor of locally grown produce.
“I want to see sustainable animal practices — I want to see that across the country and across the world,” said Kimelman-Block, who is looking for investors to start a poultry processing plant so she can also offer her customers kosher chicken and turkey.
“The people who are looking for my meat are not necessarily big meat eaters, they just want to make sure that the meat they eat is . . . nonindustry produced, nonfactory farmed, kosher meat that has the health of the environment and the workers in mind,” Kimelman-Block said.
This Rosh Hashanah, Kimelman-Block and her family and friends will dine on organic rack of lamb from Groff’s Content Farm in Rocky Ridge, one of seven free-range farms that provide organic kosher meat for KOL Food customers.
The animals are inspected by Rabbi Moshe Heinemann in Baltimore, and then slaughtered by a kosher butcher at Shaul’s Kosher Place in Silver Spring. KOL now distributes to 14 different Washington, D.C.-area synagogues, as well as locations in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
Baltimore resident Sam Andorsky said he plans to cook his family’s High Holiday meals with the squash, herbs and root vegetables delivered this month by his community-supported agriculture program at Kayam Farm in Reisterstown. The program delivers seasonal, locally grown produce to members for a preset fee.
“You are in some respects being a partner with farmers in your local community when you do this,” Andorsky said. “In Judaism there are different, specific prayers you say before you eat a certain type of food. In adulthood I realized how amazing that was — you’re returning to how the human experience used to be. You eat what you grow.”
A May immigration raid on the nation’s largest kosher slaughterhouse, Agriprocessors Inc. in Postville, Iowa, has prompted many Jews observing dietary laws to seek out local farm products, said Ali Yares, the coordinator of KOL Food distribution at Chizuk Amuno Congregation in Baltimore.
The raids resulted in charges of employee abuse and several hundred arrests.
“A lot of people have stopped eating Agriprocessors,” said Yares.
Last month, Yares sent an e-mail to select members of the congregation, including all families with school-age children, offering KOL Foods Products. More than 20 people responded to the e-mail wanting meat for the holidays, Yares said, adding that she had expected far fewer responses.
Kathy Harris, a Baltimore City beekeeper, said she sold far more honey last weekend at the Owings Mills Jewish Community Center farmers’ market than she had sold there in previous weeks.
“I probably sold about 30 or 40 pounds . . . (which is) much more than I’ve sold since the first week I started selling there,” said Harris, who markets her raw, backyard-grown honey under the label “Katherine’s Bee Garden.”
Apples are dipped in honey on Rosh Hashanah to bring in a sweet new year. The sweetener is also used freely in Jewish cooking around the holidays.
“Not everyone likes honey but pretty much everyone will use honey around the Jewish holidays. . . . They know my honey is natural — I don’t process it except to screen it through a sieve to get wax out of it.”
At the KosherMart in Rockville, most products come in organic varieties, including wine, chicken and meats.
“We are really gearing up organic. Everything organic that’s kosher, we probably have 99 percent of,” said Mordechai Yitzhaky, owner of KosherMart. “A lot of companies are producing more organic items because they see a market for it.”