USA: NY Farm Raises Organic, Halal Turkeys and More

NORWICH, N.Y. — Norwich Meadow Farms sold all its turkeys two weeks before Thanksgiving, something that comes as no surprise to owner Zaid Kurdieh.

He said he has heard of no other farm in the nation doing what he does: raising certified organic, halal and kosher-friendly turkeys.

Kurdieh didn’t grow up on a farm, but his entire adult life has involved agriculture. He studied agriculture, worked for the USDA and later worked at Cornell.

Finally, in 1998 at age 48, Kurdieh and his wife, Haifa, founded a farm on half an acre. Now farming more than 50 acres with the help of 35 employees (fewer during the off-season), Kurdieh raises herbs, eggs, produce and pastured poultry which he sells via greenmarkets and community supported agriculture operations in New York City and Norwich.

“It’s been a dream of mine ever since I was 8 years old,” said Kurdieh, a practicing Muslim.

His flock of turkeys — 150 at the peak of the season — is raised and slaughtered to comply with both NOFA and Islamic halal regulations, and though not certified kosher, they are near-kosher, which is acceptable to some Jews.

“We also have a large Jewish customer base that isn’t necessarily looking for kosher but want something similar. They trust our product.”

A product like the turkeys from Norwich Meadows is rare.

“I’m not aware of any farmers that have kosher,” Kurdieh said. “As far as I know, we’re the only religious-based farm raising halal and kosher that’s organic. Nationally, there are not any halal-certified chicken farms that I’m aware of. We are getting calls from Saudi Arabia and Canada.”

Though Kurdieh raises 1,500 chickens, and a large variety of certified organic vegetables, this time of year it’s the turkey part of the operation that takes center stage.

During the vegetable growing-season, which the farm stretches because of its growing methods, Kurdieh brings in a group of farmers from Egypt to help.

“We have a group of guys who are organic farmers who are extremely skilled in it with high tunnels,” Kurdieh said. “They’re part of the vegetable operation.”

Kurdieh would be able to expand the business further if he obtained USDA certification instead of just New York state certification.

“But we don’t want to get too big,” he said. “It’s hard to be organic with thousands (of animals). It’s not what we want to do.”

Infrastructure has also hampered Kurdieh in continuing his large animal operation. He had to send the pasture-raised lambs, goats and beef cattle out of state for halal slaughter, a practice fraught with complications.

“We want to expand our livestock as soon as we can find the proper facility that would allow us to do a halal slaughter,” Kurdieh said. “Currently, we have a New York state-certified plant on the farm for chickens and turkeys. We have plans to get back into (large animals) once we can figure out what to do with the processing side of thing.”