Crowdsourced meat is becoming more popular across the country, and while it’s definitely tough to get your head around the idea of buying half a cow – at least at first – this may be the best way we’ve found to buy local, grass-fed beef.
There are several models for crowdsourcing meat, including traditional CSAs, where people buy into animals before they’ve even been raised, and share-buying, where an individual or a group of individuals can buy shares of an animal that has already been raised and is ready to harvest.
But gaining access to crowdsourced meat can sometimes feel like trying to join a secret club. Farmers will often contact the previous year’s buyers to see if they want to buy into this year’s livestock, and if you’re not on the list, it may seem like you’re out of luck.
That said, there are a few ways you can find out about local farmers offering meat shares. Talking to meat purveyors at a farmer’s market is a great option, and even your local butcher shop can be a good resource, if you know that they buy locally.
There are also websites that allow you to get in on the goods, like Local Harvest, which allows farmers to advertise meat shares becoming available, or Crowd Cow, a West Coast-based company that allows foodies to pool to purchase a cow and even have the cuts delivered right to their doors.
“There’s been a real increase in small farmers who want to raise animals in a way that isn’t industrial and then are faced with the challenge of trying to find buyers for those animals,” explains Camas Davis, founder of the Portland Meat Collective.
But if supporting these farmers isn’t a good enough reason to get in on the meat share trend, here are three very good motivations for choosing to crowdsource your steak.
1. Pay less for great meat.
One of the best reasons to go with a crowdsourcing model for meat is the price. While buying shares in a whole animal likely won’t compete with the price of conventional meat, it’s much better than what you’ll find at your local organic supermarket or even farmers market.
“You’re essentially paying one price per pound for every single type of cut,” explains Davis. “Whereas if you go to a butcher shop or a meat counter, the people working behind the counter are pricing the cuts based on demand.”
In other words, with a crowdsourcing model, you pay the same price per pound of the animal’s hanging weight (after slaughter and evisceration), regardless of whether you’re getting tenderloin or flank steak.
2. Expand your horizons.
When you buy a quarter of a cow, you get everything: traditional muscle cuts, but also some pieces that you might have less familiarity with.
“Whether you want the offal, the fat, and the bones is up to you,” explains Davis. “But you’re still paying for it, so we always say, ‘Why not figure out how to use those cuts?’”
While it may take some trial and error, soon you’ll learn how to use not only steaks and roasts, but also liver, tripe, and even bone for homemade bone broth.
With some meat shares, you also get to communicate with a butcher, who will break down the animal for you according to your specifications, which means there’s a bit of a learning curve there as well.
“If you’re the kind of person who wants to be challenged in the kitchen or wants to learn new things, it’s a great way to sort of be forced to figure it out,” explains Davis.
3. Get to know awesome farmers.
One of the best reasons to opt for a meat share is to get closer to amazing farmers raising sustainable, grass-fed meat.
“Typically you’re buying directly from farmers,” explains Davis. “You can ask them directly how the animals were raised; you can probably go to the farm if you want to.”
Meeting farmers and talking to them about their methods will help you have added appreciation for the meat you’re consuming… and who knows? You might even gain access to top recipes from the pros.