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Cooks Venture Lands $10M Series A To Raise Healthy Chickens

Blue Apron founder Matthew Wadiak traded in meal kits for life on the farm when he started Cooks Venture a few years ago to raise chickens with better farming practices.

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To aid in that mission, the company, headquartered in New York with operations in Arkansas and Oklahoma, announced a $10 million Series A round of funding led by SJF Ventures and Cultivian Sandbox, with participation from Larry Schwartz and John Roulac, executive producer of the upcoming documentary on regenerative agriculture, Kiss the Ground.

Prior to this new round, Cooks Venture had raised a total of $16 million in two investments. The Series A investment will be used to grow and commercialize on a national scale. It will also support the company’s regenerative crop management program, Wadiak told Crunchbase News.

“We have needs that continue as we grow, including lots of capital expenditures on the farm, which was built in the 1940s and needs continuous improvements,” he added. “We are also bringing in new researchers who are focusing on what other nutrition chickens could eat that are alternatives to corn and soy, as well as selection experts to help choose our breeds.”

On the farm

Wadiak became interested in re-envisioning the future of agriculture in 2017 when Blue Apron acquired BN Ranch, which had a network of farms in California and New Zealand.

When he learned that the majority of chickens on the grocery store shelves in the U.S. were from only two breeds of chicken and not raised in the best of conditions, he went on a mission to breed and raise a proprietary slow-growth, heirloom chicken in a way that took into account both the health of the animal and its environment.

“We needed to make a change, but it takes a lot of money to build up chicken breeding to create something that is scalable and is much better,” Wadiak said.

He teamed up with Blake Evans, who was doing research on poultry breeding and had started the process with some investors. Wadiak acquired Evans’ Crystal Lake Farms in 2018 and took over as CEO.

Cooks Venture touts itself as the only vertically integrated chicken producer in the U.S. that has an independent genetics operation—breeding through selection, not genetic engineering—without ties to the two globally consolidated genetics companies, Wadiak said.

“Our interest is using the existing understanding of nature to build better things with technology,” he added.

Better tools

In addition to the investment, Cooks Venture is also announcing a partnership with Food In-Depth, a scientific food testing startup, that went public this week. It is led by Bill Niman, who had owned BN Ranch. FoodID’s new platform is designed to increase transparency and accountability for food safety claims, such as food that is labeled “antibiotic-free” and “hormone-free.”

Cooks Venture’s chickens will be a benchmark for testing if meat is antibiotic-free because the company does not use antibiotics, Wadiak said. The current process for this involves sending a piece of meat off to be tested, which can take weeks and cost thousands of dollars, he added. FoodID’s test will be able to test and provide results in real time.

Meanwhile, Cooks Venture will continue its commercialization following extensive renovations to its facilities that started back in January.

“We will be ramping up and building out our research and development,” Wadiak said. “We will be doing increased research on building nutrition for the chickens and will continue our work on breeding that supports good soil and good health for the chickens.”

Feature photo courtesy of Cooks Venture
Blogroll illustration: Li-Anne Dias

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