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A Northwest Arkansas chicken processor recently secured $12 million in funding, allowing the company to open an air-chilled slaughterhouse for its slow-growth, heirloom birds.

With the funding, Cooks Venture said it plans to expand its processing capabilities, help farmers transition to regenerative processes and work with agroecologists to improve industry practices. The company is based in Decatur, about 22 miles west of Rogers.

Cooks is working to implement better farm practices that curb carbon emissions and regenerate soil, to build a pay system that is more favorable to farmers, and to raise animals differently, said Matthew Wadiak, Cooks' founder and chief executive officer.

"We're the only company in scale that's able to make this change," Wadiak said.

Founded on the idea that sequestering 1% more carbon into the soil could help reverse climate change, Cooks established itself as a next-generation agriculture-tech company committed to "regenerative agriculture."

Down the road, Wadiak said Cooks would like to affect other aspects of agriculture, whether it be cattle or leafy greens, but its main focus has been pasture-raised, heirloom chickens that grow more slowly than conventional birds.

Wadiak, a founder of meal-kit delivery service Blue Apron, began Cooks in the spring after acquiring more than 800 acres of Ozark farmland with poultry assets, including a special breed of chicken developed in the 1950s.

Cooks made a "nine-figure" deal to acquire Crystal Lake Farms, a free-range chicken supplier based in Decatur, after it closed in the summer of 2018, a company spokesman said earlier this year.

In the deal, Cooks bought dozens of large chicken houses and a few processing plants and slaughterhouses, with one capable of air-chilling and processing 700,000 chickens per week in Oklahoma.

With this latest round of funding, Cooks can open the newly renovated air-chilled processor, Wadiak said.

New York private investment firm Amerra Capital Management LLC backed the $12 million.

"We strongly support Cooks Venture and its dedication to improving the agriculture ecosystem through scientifically proven regenerative practices and innovation," Chris Chapman, managing director at Amerra, said in a statement Thursday.

"Matthew's impressive background in the food and technology industries, combined with his drive to create lasting change in the agriculture space, will surely solidify Cooks Venture as a household name," Chapman said.

Shoppers can buy Cooks Venture chicken a couple of ways. Shortly after ramping up production this year, Cooks reached a partnership with online grocer FreshDirect, gaining access to customers in the Northeast. Two months later, Cooks chicken became available to customers across Northern California via distributor Golden Gate Meat Co.

A whole pasture-raised chicken from Cooks sells for $3.99 a pound, according to freshdirect.com.

Business on 09/10/2019

CORRECTION: Cooks Venture recently opened a renovated air-chilled chicken plant that can process up to 700,000 birds a week. The number of chickens the plant can process in a week was incorrectly reported in an earlier version of this article.

Print Headline: NW Arkansas firm gets $12M for work in heirloom poultry

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