Urban Adamah privately slaughtered 15 chickens that were scheduled to be killed as part of a public kosher slaughter workshop on May 4 that was canceled after community outcry.
Adam Berman, executive director of the Berkeley farm and education center, disclosed the news in an email to J. this week.
The chickens, which were no longer laying eggs, were killed by a shochet (kosher slaughterer) in two sessions attended by staff members and Urban Adamah fellows. Eight chickens were slaughtered on May 14 and the remainder on May 20.
“Unfortunately, we were unable, due to time limitations, to process all of the chickens on [May 14],” Berman wrote in an email. “The remaining few were killed by staff, with the support of our fellows, on Tuesday afternoon, May 20 All of our chickens were treated with utmost kindness and care during their lifetimes and killed in the most thoughtful and humane way we know possible.”
The meat was used in chicken soup and served at Urban Adamah’s weekly free farm stand on May 21. The stand usually gives away produce grown on the Berkeley farm.
“The farm stand is designed for people who don’t have access to healthful food,” Berman said.
The shechting happened around the time Jewish Vegetarians of North America and United Poultry Concerns launched an online petition calling on Urban Adamah to “release the 15 healthy young hens.” Several weeks ago, those groups helped mount a campaign to cancel the May 4 workshop, threatening to protest at the event.
Karen Davis, president of United Poultry Concerns, wrote in an email that the slaughter “casts an ugly light on Urban Adamah.”
“They may never again use the words compassion, respect, gratitude and reverence for these birds — or any other animal they intend to destroy needlessly — without feeling their stomachs curdle with revulsion and shame that they could so meanly hurt and kill innocent creatures at their mercy,” she wrote.
The first kosher slaughter session was led by shochet and Jewish educator Rabbi Zac Johnson.
Seth Harris, a former Urban Adamah fellow, wrote in an email, “It was a beautiful ceremony and I am extremely grateful to have been present for it. My deepest thinking and feeling these days has been focused on my relationship to animals.”
Melissa Ament, part of the Urban Adamah fellowship program, said she had a similar reaction. The 23-year-old Deerfield, Ill., native and recent graduate of the University of Wisconsin thought she might be uncomfortable watching chickens being slaughtered for the first time, but she wasn’t.
“I’ve always eaten meat, and for anyone who is going to eat meat, I think that they should know where it comes from and have the opportunity to see the process,” she said. “To go through that makes me realize how much work goes into the food we eat.”
Before the slaughter, Johnson said a prayer and then attendees sat silently in a circle while the chickens had their necks slit. Ament said participants plucked the chickens’ feathers while the bodies were still warm.
“It was more like a peaceful process, which I didn’t expect,” Ament said.
Jeffrey Cohan, executive director of JVNA, said, “We’re disappointed that Urban Adamah did not avail itself of the opportunity to spare the hens and transfer them at no cost to a farm animal sanctuary.”
According to JVNA and UPC, three nearby sanctuaries had offered to adopt the hens.
“Please note, we didn’t cancel the original workshop because we agreed with the protesters,” Berman noted. “We cancelled the workshop because our landlord asked us not to hold a public workshop and because we didn’t think we could hold a safe and respectful event with protesters near the farm.”
Berman continued: “Food brings up so many different real world feelings, questions and opinions. That’s a big reason why, as an organization, we focus on food as a gateway to larger ethical and spiritual issues. Whether or not to eat meat is one of those issues with many legitimate points of view. Most of the people in our community eat meat. Our opinion is that if you are going to eat meat, you ought to know as much as possible about where that meat comes from and how it gets to your plate.
“I also want to share that since this became a public conversation, I have heard from over 1,000 people protesting our choice/policy. Literally, only one of them, as far as we can tell, has actually participated in any of our programs on the farm. Except for this individual, all the protesters are people outside of the community of folks who call Urban Adamah home. Separately, we’ve received hundreds of emails and phone calls from our community members — former fellows, parents of campers and our after school program, participants in our holiday celebration, and leaders from Jewish and social justice organizations in the community — all who have voiced support for our policy.”