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Kitchen Encounters: Not Your Mother’s Brisket

Barbara Bensoussan

Why Naftali Hanau purveys free range meat to kosher consumers, and what it’s like going green in Crown Heights

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

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Free range chickens are healthy and delicious chickens, claims Grow and Behold founder Naftali Hanau

Sitting on the raised ironwork terrace of Naftali and Anna Hanau’s backyard, you really don’t feel like you’re in Crown Heights. 

Pots of flowers brighten the terrace, and tall trees mottle the sunshine of this summer afternoon. Below us is a coop containing twenty chickens, colored rust and black and speckled, squawking and pecking for food. 

Even the interior of this brownstone, renovated in blond wood and rustic patterned tiles in Scandinavian style, isn’t typically Crown Heights. We’re on the other side of Eastern Parkway opposite 770, down where the neighborhood begins to shade into Bed-Stuy and ethnic diversity. This area is gradually attracting a vibrant young Modern Orthodox crowd — “People who might go to Teaneck or Riverdale, but need to be in Brooklyn,” Naftali says. 

But we’re not here to discuss real estate; we’re here to talk about Grow and Behold, the Hanaus’s kosher free range meat business. Seated in a garden chair next to a metal smoker and across from a barbecue, looking relaxed in shorts, a polo shirt, and sandals, Naftali shares the story of how Grow and Behold came into being.

Naftali Hanau mans the grill in his Crown Heights backyard paradise

Always a Carnivore

A native of Rochester, New York, Naftali always loved cooking and eating meat. As a high school student, he used to get off the bus, wander into the local kosher butcher shop, and pick up cuts of meat to take home and cook. “I once brought home two lamb chops,” he recalls. “My mother called the butcher and told him, ‘The next time you send my son home with lamb chops without sending some for me too, I’m closing my account!’” 

Naftali also liked the outdoors, starting a landscaping business while still in high school. Even when he went off to college at New York University, where he majored in economics, he found it worth his while to fly home occasionally to service steady clients. His affinity for working the earth brought him post-college to a three-month fellowship at the Isabella Freedman Retreat in Falls Village, Connecticut, originally founded as a summer camp for young women working in the garment district. There, young people work on an organic farm at the Teva Learning Center. “It’s sponsored by the Adamah Foundation, and is designed to train Jewish environmental leaders,” Naftali explains. He returned the following summer to work as the greenhouse manager, which he enjoyed so much he went on to train in horticulture at the New York Botanic Garden’s School of Professional Horticulture.

He and Anna, a native of Vancouver, met at Adamah. “We both fell in love with the idea of feeding people,” Naftali says. When they married, their wedding guests were treated to meals of organic lamb meat and curried pastured goat. They dreamed of buying a farm together, but a combination of practical and religious factors ultimately discouraged them. “The asking price for a farm we looked at was two million dollars, and farmers also have to worry about expenses like insurance for workers,” Naftali relates. “I didn’t know any frum farmers. Where would I go to shul on Shabbos, or weekdays for that matter?”

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