“You are what what you’re eating eats,” says Matthew Wadiak, cofounder and CEO of Cooks Venture and former Blue Apron COO.
The company, which just received $12 million in funding, is looking to rethink the way we grow crops, feed our livestock, and ultimately take better care of our planet. The strategy is three-fold.
First, Cooks Venture partners with small farms to set up regenerative agricultural practices from its own IP, which it has also set up at its own 800-acre farm. This includes determining which types of plants will protect the soil itself and sequester carbon in the ground. It also includes measuring soil carbon, nutrition and other biological factors to promote biodiversity and stave off pest populations. According to the company, leading climate scientists believe that if this process was carried out for all farms across the globe, climate change could be reversed.
But regenerative agriculture as a product is just a small slice of what Cooks Ventures is all about. After all, what is Cooks Venture actually growing on its farm? The answer is chicken feed. But not the same old chicken feed that’s been around for generations.
Cooks Venture chicken feed is grown specifically for Cooks Venture chickens, which have been selected over many, many generations of Heritage chickens to have the best digestive health, and are given unrestricted access to the outdoors. All in all, it took more than a decade to isolate the genetic lines that have resulted in Cooks Venture chickens, called Heirloom chickens. These chickens are also more heat resistant, meaning that they can be raised in unusually hot places once the company looks to expand globally.
Because these chickens are able to eat a more diverse diet, with more fiber and protein than the chicken feed used on other chicken farms, they are higher in omegas, healthier and taste better, according to Wadiak. Moreover, Cooks Venture has managed to scale up its operations, including its own processing facility, to distribute upwards of 700,000 chickens per week.
Obviously, Cooks Venture’s main revenue model is selling chickens. The company is currently working with FreshDirect, Golden Gate Meat Company, and has more retail partnerships to announce soon, alongside sales of the chickens on its website.
But the funding will also go towards building out the upstream and downstream revenue models. Upstream, Cooks Venture wants to partner with farmers to not only build out regenerative agricultural practices, but to show them that they can actually grow more calories per acre (and thus make more money) by using these regenerative processes. The IP around how to do this — which crops to grow, which trees and ponds to leave in place, and how to rotate those crops — is a valuable product.
Downstream, the company wants to work with chicken farmers or companies who are interested in proliferating the Cooks Ventures genetic lines throughout the world.
In this way, Cooks Venture is the first vertically integrated agricultural company to operate solely on regenerative agriculture.
Wadiak says the greatest challenge to Cooks Venture is educating people around regenerative agtech and mobilizing those people to move the needle against old-school, economically unsound and environmentally unfriendly agricultural systems.
“97 percent of agriculture in America is crops and most of those crops are going to animal feed,” said Wadiak. “Unless we address the animal feed system in our country and the lobbying and political misrepresentation in those systems, it’s very challenging to change the food system and create regenerative systems.”
He added that America’s farmers make up two percent of the voting population, whereas billions of dollars are spent lobbying congressman to vote for proliferating subsidies in corn and soy.
The $12 million in financing was provided by AMERRA Capital Management.