‘Amazing accomplishment’: 80 Acres produce made in Hamilton now Kosher certified

Hamilton-based 80 Acres Farms recently received Kosher certification, and a rabbi who is part of that approval said he was astounded at how well the indoor-farming company keeps insects from its produce, even though it uses no pesticides.

“It’s an amazing, amazing accomplishment,” said Rabbi Avrohom Weinrib, administrator of Cincinnati Kosher, which now oversees about 50 establishments in Ohio, Kentucky, West Virginia and Indiana.

The not-for-profit organization soon also will be known as Central Kosher as it expands regionally. Both organizations will use the symbol of a circle around the letters CK.

With Passover starting the evening of March 27, such a designation can make preparing salads much easier for Jewish families. Vegetables and other plant products normally are Kosher. Yet a Kosher law bans eating even the tiniest of insects, Weinrib said.

“It has to be perfectly clean to be considered Kosher,” Weinrib said. “So basically, what we’re certifying — and this is the incredible process of 80 Acres — is they, through technology, got to the ability to grow things without any infestation, to the point of perfection, which is an incredible accomplishment in the world at large, but particularly an incredible breakthrough for the Kosher world.”

As part of the certification process, crops are washed in water, and that water is poured through a fine cloth that catches even the tiniest organisms. Then the cloth is checked on a light box. Then reviewers use magnifying glasses, and sometimes microscopes, “to ensure there’s nothing on there — anything like an insect,” Weinrib said.

“We’ve done about six weeks of inspections at 80 Acres to make sure that’s the case, and so far, it’s been zero,” he said. “There’s a few others in the country that have gotten to this level — very, very few — and 80 Acres is probably the best in the country in terms of this accomplishment.”

Never eaten a raspberry

Every time Weinrib’s family prepares salads or greens, “It’s going to take my wife, or one of my children, or if we pay someone to do it, to go through this exact process of washing, inspecting and almost always washing a second, or third or fourth time, until it actually gets clean,” he said.

“Because we have to make sure it’s fully clean,” Weinrib added. “So it’s time-consuming, it’s labor-intensive, and it’s something that is not an easy process.”

But when consumers see the Kosher symbol, said Kosher coordinator Rabbi Lazer Fischer, “They just open up the bag, and they can use the lettuce inside,” knowing it’s completely insect-free.

Monica Noble, who runs 80 Acres’ quality and food safety program, said the company didn’t have to change anything to earn the certification.

“Our controlled growing environment is ideal to meet Kosher requirements,” she said.

At 80 Acres, “our grow zones are enclosed and employee traffic is extremely limited, which helps us prevent pest access in the first place,” Noble said.

Kosher laws are so stringent that Weinrib has never eaten a raspberry. Fischer, who recently moved from Israel, hasn’t had one since about age 5, after intensive cleansing of those raspberries.

Other difficult-to-clean produce includes blackberries, asparagus, Brussels sprouts and sometimes strawberries.

Fischer has tasted raspberry syrups, so he has a general idea. But he hopes one day 80 Acres will have “a breakthrough” for people who have never tasted a raspberry.

Holiday meals

Kosher certification feels good to Samantha Bergman, 80 Acres’ senior manager of retail sales and merchandising, because of her grandfather, Harvey Bergman.

“That was something that was so important to him, honoring the Jewish tradition, and passing that down from generation to generation,” Bergman said. “I’m grateful I work somewhere that can honor this tradition for the multitude of families that hold it close to their hearts.”

Many Muslims and others also pay attention to kosher certifications.

Shakila Ahmad, with the Islamic Center of Greater Cincinnati in West Chester, said when their Halal certification isn’t on a product, many Muslims look at the Kosher certification, especially when making sure there are no traces of pork in a product.

During Passover, which runs from March 27 to April 4, which this year coincides with Easter, Jews don’t eat breads, cakes or any grain-based product. That lack of leavened food represents the fact that in escaping slavery while leaving Egypt, they had to flee quickly with no time for dough to rise into bread. Maybe someday, 80 Acres will grow romaine lettuce, which can be used as a bitter herb, representing slavery. Romaine is particularly difficult to clean, the rabbis said.

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