Chickens at Urban Adamah. Photo: Urban Adamah
West Berkeley community farm Urban Adamah was forced to cancel a workshop after activists threatened to protest on May 4, International Respect for Chickens Day. Photo: Urban Adamah

Berkeley’s Urban Adamah community farm thought it had a practical way to deal with its 15 chickens that had stopped laying eggs: hold a workshop on how to use kosher methods to slaughter the birds.

The community seemed to agree: 30 people signed up to attend the May 4 class.

However, after community activists and a chicken rights group threatened to picket the workshop, the Jewish organization, whose stated values are “compassion, love and respect,” has cancelled the class. The fate of the chickens is still uncertain.

“We regret to inform you that we are canceling our shechita (ritual slaughter) workshop planned for this Sunday,” Adam Berman, the executive director of Urban Adamah said in a posting on its Facebook page. “Our landlord has asked us to cancel the event. We do not have explicit permission in our lease for this activity. It has also become clear that there is a significant protest being organized outside the farm during the workshop. The noise and disruption expected from the protesters would very likely have caused undue stress to the chickens and the program participants, and prevent us from holding a safe, educational and compassionate workshop.”

J Weekly was the first to report the controversy. 

The local chapter of United Poultry Concerns, a national organization dedicated to stopping the slaughter of chickens, as well as Jewish Vegetarians of North America, have called off their planned Sunday protest at Urban Adamah, said Hope Bohanec, a Petaluma-based project manager for the group. Ironically, May 4 is International Respect for Chickens Day, started by the group in 2005 to “celebrate chickens throughout the world and protest the bleakness of their lives in farming operations.”

[Listen to/watch Berkeleyside’s “Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chickens” podcast]

Normally, United Poultry Concerns focuses on the horrid conditions many chickens live in at large-scale chicken farms. Thousands of chickens are often crammed together so tightly they can barely move and are pumped up with medicines to create large breasts, the popular white meat in birds.

Even though Urban Adamah has treated its chickens well, feeding them greens from Berkeley Bowl and harvesting their eggs, that doesn’t give them the right to slit their throats, which is a painful way to die, said Bohanec.

“We believe killing is killing,” she said. “It doesn’t matter the scale. These chickens are our neighbors. We have the duty to speak up for them and try and save them. Just because they have been treated well doesn’t give Urban Adamah the right to kill them.”

There are four chicken rescue operations that are willing to take Urban Adamah’s hens and let them live out the rest of their natural lives, she said. Chickens can live 15 years.

Urban Adamah holds many community celebrations, like this one of the harvest in 2012. Photo: Wendy Kenin
A girl with some chickens at Urban Adamah, a Jewish community farm in Berkeley. Photo: Urban Adamah

Urban Adamah has not yet decided what it will do with the birds now that the workshop has been cancelled, according to Berman. He said that he had been surprised that Urban Adamah had been made the focus of protests considering how many meat packaging factories, restaurants, and factory farms there are in the world.

“That they would choose us to be the object of their protests is a surprise,” he said.

Urban Adamah has been raising chickens since it opened three and a half years ago. It has a formal  chicken policy that states:

“Urban Adamah raises chickens at our farm in Berkeley. The chickens provide several resources that are important to our mission. They produce manure that we turn into compost. They produce eggs that we give to those in need. And, they give our staff, students and visitors the opportunity to practice animal care on a daily basis that is consistent with our values of kindness and compassion. They live in a large open coop. We feed them leftover greens from the Berkeley Bowl. We take them to the vet when they are sick.

As is common practice in sustainable farms around the country, Urban Adamah kills its chickens at the end of their egg-laying years, and provides their meat to members of our community. We feel it is valuable for individuals who choose to eat meat to have the opportunity to understand directly and personally what killing of animals entails. This experience sensitizes us to the difficult steps that are necessary for eating meat, and leads to greater consciousness around our food choices.

Our public workshops demonstrate how one can kill chickens in a way that is respectful of and has reverence for the animals, is prescribed by Jewish tradition, and is in alignment with our Jewish values.”

Urban Adamah, a Jewish faith-based farm, has been operating at 1050 Parker St. in West Berkeley since 2011. The farm holds numerous educational workshops and grows vegetables that it sells at a farm stand and distributes to food pantries around the city. Urban Adamah recently purchased a 2.2 acre plot of land at 1151 Sixth Street in West Berkeley, right next to a restored portion of Codornices Creek. It plans to move its operations there during the winter of 2014/2015.

Read more in J Weekly. 

Community farm buys 2+ acres in West Berkeley (05.13.14)
Podcast: Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chickens (07.26.12)
Urban farm Urban Adamah celebrate the harvest (06.17.11)
Faith-based urban farm opens in Berkeley (06.20.11)

To get breaking Berkeley news from Berkeleyside follow us on Twitter and on Facebook, or download our free iPhone app.

"*" indicates required fields

See an error that needs correcting? Have a tip, question or suggestion? Drop us a line.

Frances Dinkelspiel, Berkeleyside and CItyside co-founder, is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman Created California, published in November...