Why Buy the Steak when You can Get the Cow for Less?

by Lynn B. Johnson on December 5, 2009

SteakSo, my husband and I have been delighted with our choice to buy a CSA farmshare. Our summer has been chock-full of mostly local, mostly organic vegetables, and it’s pushed me to become a more adventurous cook and eater (yes, I ate the beets. Call the press).

But now, there’s a new buy-local buzzword in town. It’s called “cowpooling.” This is where neighbors pool their money to purchase all of the meat from one local cow.

Buying in bulk directly from local farmers or ranchers can save you quite a lot of money. Modern News Network estimates the cost of a pound of cowpooled strip steak costs between $3 – $5, a remarkable savings over the $16 equivalent cut at Whole Foods. You also receive the added benefits of knowing where all  your ground beef comes from, avoiding the “downer” animal influence or cross-contamination risks, and pumping money into your local economy.

A whole cow usually yields about 550 pounds of meat cuts and ground beef. Half a cow is referred to as a “side” of beef. A butchered-and-packaged side can generally fit into a 10 cubic-foot freezer. Neighbors who decide to cowpool first make dibs on the cuts of beef they prefer, and then split the cost.

(Of course, it goes without saying that if you don’t already have a deep freezer, that should be your first step. Chest-style freezers are more energy efficient but also more difficult to dig through.)

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs are available all over the nation for people who are interested in purchasing a cow (or hog) from a local rancher. In fact, LocalHarvest says that meats are their top-selling products, and offer links to local options for everything from beef to bison, pork to rabbit.

Purchasing an entire side of beef should be considered an investment. While you might not be interested in racking up a big bill for a year’s worth of meat, it is ultimately less expensive than the alternative. Purchasing 1-2 pounds of a local, organic cut of meat can really drive home the benefit of cowpooling or otherwise buying meat in bulk. A local, organic food-delivery service in my county sells NY sirloin for $16/lb!

If you’re not ready to jump into the cowpool, but want to purchase local meats by the pound, you can visit LocalHarvest’s Meats page. These meat products “are raised healthfully, on a small scale, by family farmers.” Just choose your preferred type of protein, and then enter your zip code to purchase local meats by the pound. The cost will probably be comparable to what you would pay at Whole Foods — depending upon the farm you choose and your preferred cut of meat — but you will know its pedigree and how it was raised (i.e., free-range, antibiotic-free, etc).

For more information on buying beef for home freezers, download this free .pdf document from Oklahoma State University. And bon appetit!

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