By Celeste Baumgartner
HAMILTON, Ohio – 80 Acres Farms is now kosher certified. The controlled growing environment at this indoor, vertical farm is ideal for meeting kosher standards. Kosher produce has to be free of bugs, and that includes those you cannot see through a regular visual inspection.
Rabbi Lazer Fischer, Rabbinical coordinator, and Rabbi Avrohom Weinrib, Rabbinical administrator, both with Central Kosher/Cincinnati Kosher, recently inspected the farm.
“Kosher is a diet, a style of eating,” Fischer said. “Jews and plenty of people that are not affiliated with Judaism like the kosher diet and the kosher-style of eating. Kosher is not just a set of rules, it is all about the quality, making sure that what is supposed to be in the product is in the product.”
Kosher foods are a $24 billion market, Fischer said. Research shows that if a kosher product is positioned next to a competing non-kosher brand, a kosher product will do 20 percent better than the competing brand. Consumers of kosher foods include Jews, Muslims, members of other religious denominations and those who equate kosher with superior quality.
“For something to be kosher we have a strict set of rules,” Fischer said. “Included in those rules are we do not eat insects. It is written five times in the Bible not to eat bugs. This is very harsh for us. It means a lot.”
One can’t see those bugs just by looking, Fischer said. Plain lettuce is almost guaranteed to have them. Those who eat kosher would have to buy lettuce with the least amount of infestation. Typically, those are the ones with the most pesticides. Then they soak it in a soapy solution, rinse, and repeat the procedure a couple of times. After the last rinse, they collect the water and run it through a very fine mesh.
Next, they would put that mesh on a lightbox, he explained. They examine what remains in the mesh. Only a trained eye can tell what is a bug; sometimes what looks like dirt has legs.
“Once you find the mesh clean then we are allowed to eat the lettuce,” Fischer said. “That’s why a lot of people don’t eat lettuce. Tomatoes and cucumbers don’t have a problem so we make a salad out of something else. It gets very complicated. Either we’re eating soap or we eating pesticides up until now.”
The crops at 80 Acres are grown in a sealed zone with little human interaction. It is insect-free. Fischer tested 70 harvests and there was no infestation. He sent samples to the best experts in the field at checking for insects and they were blown away that they found none.
The kosher certification is not a one-time approval, said Monica Noble, 80 Acres director of quality.
“It is important to note that we can achieve this pest-free environment without the use of pesticides commonly used in traditional farming,” she said. “The kosher certification is not a one-time approval but will be evaluated about once a week.”
David Litvin, the farm’s crop specialist, grew up in an orthodox Jewish home.
“Having a kosher certification on the produce I grow is meaningful to me,” he said. “The complexity and restrictions behind receiving a kosher certification demonstrate how 80 Acres prioritizes our produces’ traceability and purity.”
For Fischer, it is a breakthrough.
“My wife can open a package of lettuce and put it in the bowl,” he said. “It is like a gift from God. He gave us a vertical farm and we can start eating the lettuce. It’s a good tasting lettuce, the nutrition, the quality is amazing.”