Ninety-seven percent of American crops are either wheat, soy or corn. That means all those leafy greens, root vegetables, fruits and nuts only account for 3 percent combined. This lack of biodiversity takes its toll on the soil that farmers use, causing topsoil to lose nutrients and erode away.
In fact, half of the planet’s topsoil has been lost in the past 150 years.
Cooks Venture, founded by Blue Apron co-founder Matthew Wadiak, is trying to stop this deterioration, and it’s starting with chickens.
Corn is one of the biggest culprits of soil degradation, taking up over 400 million acres of American farmland. About a quarter of this corn is used as feed for cows and chickens. Since cows are ruminant animals, they are adapted to graze on grass and not corn. This is one of the reasons for the “grass-fed beef” movement. But exclusively feeding corn to chickens is also problematic.
So Cooks Venture designed a new chicken. Or more accurately, it used selective breeding to create its “heirloom” chicken, which more closely resemble older breeds of chickens instead of the variety you’d find in factory farms. These heirloom chickens are bred to promote traits like digestability, which allow them to digest a wider array of feeds.
As a result, these chickens are better for the soil, live healthier lives and taste better according to Cooks Venture.
But Cooks Venture’s mission extends past chickens. The AgTech company is focused on “regenerative agriculture,” which uses biological, ecological and farm sciences to cut greenhouse emissions and provide sustainable farming practices.
On Thursday, the company announced that it closed $12 million in new financing to achieve this goal.
“We are the only independent genetics company in poultry,” Wadiak, who is Cooks Venture’s founder and CEO, told Built In. “This funding will help us bring our science and research to the rest of the world.”
Wadiak told Built In that this type of chicken is better suited for a range of environments, due to the variety of feed it can live off of. So farms in the U.S., South America or across the world can raise these chickens, with minimal environmental impact.
The new funding go towards research and development, as well as capital improvement in farms. The company has recently opened a renovated facility that can produce up to 700,000 of its heirloom chickens per week.
The funding will also help Cooks Venture sign more partnerships. The company has made its chickens more widely available through partnerships with meat distributor Golden Gate Meat Company and online grocer FreshDirect.
Cooks Venture was based off of the scientific principle that retaining one percent more carbon in the soil could help reverse the effects of climate change and allow for more sustainable agriculture. And it’s aiming to achieve this goal one chicken at a time.