Company With Benton County Poultry Farm Announces $10M Investment

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Cooks Venture, the company raising heirloom chickens in Decatur with a genetic line going back to Arkansas poultry pioneer Lloyd Peterson, announced a new $10 million investment on Wednesday.

Blake Evans, Peterson’s grandson, leads the operation growing free-ranging, non-GMO chickens on the old Peterson old farm spread in Benton County and packaging them at a rate of hundreds of thousands of birds per month at a plant in Jay, Oklahoma.

Company officials said the Series A investment led by SJF Ventures of Durham, North Carolina, and Cultivian Sandbox Ventures LLC of Chicago will allow the company to “grow and commercialize on a national scale,” and support its regenerative agriculture in improving feed and the environment.

“We are very excited about the differences between the breed of chicken that Cooks Venture offers from the two breeds that constitute more than 90% of global chicken consumption,” said a statement from Alan Kelley, SIF Ventures’ managing director and no admirer of the “uniform taste” found in nearly all chicken sold in supermarkets today.

The birds in Decatur roam the farm grounds, never get antibiotics, and will now be certified as non-GMO through testing by Food In Depth, a Cooks Venture partner since 2019, according to a company news release. FoodID, as the startup is know, offers a platform to test for antibiotics and other adulterants.

“We know that label fraud is a serious problem in the poultry and larger food industry,” said Matthew Wadiak, Cooks Venture’s CEO and a co-founder of the meal service Blue Apron. “We took the initiative to validate our work so our customers can be confident,” he added, declaring that Cooks Venture is now the only company that can independently validate that it never uses antibiotics and provides verified non-GMO feed to its birds.

In a late April telephone interview with Arkansas Business, Wadiak described Cooks Venture’s sustainable philosophy, a mission to raise free-roaming chickens from heirloom strains developed by Blake, whose grandfather developed one of the hardiest and most popular chicken breeds of the 20th century, the “Peterson male.” Lloyd Peterson died in 2007. Blake and company genetics chief Richard Udale spent years creating what Wadiak called “the country’s only biodiverse and vertically integrated poultry operation” over a decade at Crystal Lake Farms in Decatur.

The other part of Cooks Venture’s vision calls for a regenerative, Earth-friendly food industry with a feed-supply chain designed to help other farmers capture carbon in their soil, offsetting climate change.