Modern humans who have grown accustomed to unnaturally large, fatty chickens will find the lean, sinewy meat of organic chickens nearly unrecognizable. These birds are smaller than those raised in conventional coops. They have less fat, so the meat is a little drier than we are used to. But they have the genuine, splendid taste of chicken meat.
In Israel, there are several breeders of organic chickens, most of whose production is sold frozen. "Ninety-five percent of the chickens sold in Israel are fresh," says Arik Melamed of Tzippori, a pioneer in the local organic chicken market. "I thought to myself - in the organic market, with all the advantages of this meat, why shouldn't it be the same?"
Melamed was born into a family of farmers and poultry breeders in Kfar Hanagid. He served in the regular army for many years before going into high-tech and moving his family to Hong Kong for a decade, but he always dreamed of being a farmer. A year and a half ago, he opened his first chicken coop, called "Organi Tari" ("Fresh Organic" ).
"I never liked the old methods of raising chickens," he says. "Even as a kid, they appalled me. But my basic motive in starting the coop wasn't pure ideology, but the high quality of the meat, having identified the need. I'm not a fanatic about organic food. At home I don't eat just organic."
Melamed's chickens are fed a blend of organic grains imported from the United States, along with organic alfalfa grown in the field next to the large chicken coop he built on the family's land. "According to the European rules I follow, chicken feed has to include at least 30 percent fresh greens in order to meet the organic standard. The need for artificial food supplements arose in the regular chicken coops because of an unbalanced diet. If human beings were to eat only grains, they could also come down with diseases; a varied diet reduces the chance of falling ill and needing medicines."
Since they lack teeth, it takes the chickens quite a while to consume the sprouts Melamed feeds them. But what a heartwarming sight it is for anyone keen on good health and good meat to see a chicken with a bunch of green leaves in its beak.
His chickens also enjoy less crowded conditions. The chicks spend their first days in a closed structure that is dozens of times more spacious than ordinary industrial coops, and once they discover the joys of the great outdoors, in the shade of the walnut trees, they never go back indoors again. According to organic standards, each chicken is to be allotted two to three square meters of grazing area.
In the 16th century, King Henry IV of France declared that he aimed to make the nation so prosperous that a chicken would be cooking in every peasant's pot every Sunday. Melamed's vision for organic chickens in Israel is no less ambitious; it includes more coops of the same type, resulting in a gradual lowering of prices.
"From the first stages of my research, it was clear that the prices were not widely affordable. To get down to a price of 40 shekels a kilo, I distribute the chickens myself to bypass the middleman. But I've seen that this price is still too steep for most consumers. The problem is that our raw materials are expensive. Breeding time is slower than in ordinary coops, the organic seed mixture is expensive and at every stage in the production process, from the feed machines all the way to the slaughterhouse, you have to maintain total separation from the regular product."
As a result, Arik's marvelous chickens are sold mostly in organic food stores, but they will soon be found in regular supermarkets too.
For more information, see the Organi Tari web site: www.lul-organi.co.il