Since the release of movies like Food, Inc. The Future of Food, and King Corn, demand for grass fed beef is out the roof. Being that I live in California, I can certainly find grass fed beef in most supermarkets, but they're not selling it at rock bottom prices. It's pricy.
So you can imagine I jumped on the opportunity a couple of years ago to buy local grass fed beef that was free ranged for $4.25 per pound out the door (hung, cut, wrapped, and delivered to a drop off location), straight from the rancher. I'm a very happy gal today.
As a family of 5, we buy half a cow for the year and we eat beef once a week, and occasionally twice a week. This year our meat weighed out at 252# and will give us approximately 80 meals. So to give you an idea of what we got, here's a breakdown with some numbers I crunched so you can see how this plays out...
Our Custom Cuts
56 1# packages of ground beef
7 packages of stew meat
5 packages of soup bones
5 chuck roasts
1 rump roast
2 cross rib roast
4 packages of short ribs
1 tri-tip (a CA cut of meat never heard of in the south!)
8 sirloin tips
7 packages of cube steaks
7 top sirloins
16 rib steaks
14 T bones
Each package is enough for our family for a meal except the ground beef (we usually use two at once, depending on the recipe). But let's just say we use 2 packages every time we eat it. That gives us enough to have ground beef every other week and something else on the opposite weeks. For example...
8 weeks during the year we can have roast!
5 times we can have ribs or tri tip
7 times we can make something with cube steaks
12 weeks I can make a soup or stew with stew meat or meat bones (oh, and the butcher threw in the knuckle bones for free - good for bone broth!)
23 times we can have wonderful tasting STEAK! (My favorite, of course!)
Beef is about the most expensive meat we eat. Our other meats include wild caught fish, Sweetwater Farm raised chickens, venison and other game my husband or someone hunts, along with specialty sausages I buy from another ranching family that raises grass fed beef. Once in a great while I'll buy another sausage (we seem to like sausage, but I'm very selective!).
For some, the price may seem a bit high for ground beef, but in the store, the grass fed beef is much more per pound. And the steaks? I couldn't touch them for less than $7.99 per pound (non-grass fed, not on sale). Yes, I could find much cheaper meat, going to places like Costco, looking for mark downs, etc. (and once in a while, if I need something in particular, I'll purchase something). But this beef is good for us because of how it was raised and what it ate. The cow was allowed to express it's "cow-ness". Can you put a price on that?
So what's the downside? The initial out lay of cash. We put down a very modest deposit to reserve our half of the cow. The balance was due at pick up. Some may find that coming up with the cash for the first purchase is a bit daunting, but if you can scrape the money together, you'll save money in the long run!
Once you purchase your first cow share, start saving for the next one. If I put $90 aside a month, I'll have plenty of cash ready for the next round and the bite out of the budget will be nothing.
While this may not be for everyone, it might be a good solution for many. And it would certainly be a great way to vote with your dollars - or your fork as Michael Pollan says. It made me feel really good to talk directly with the butcher and have a conversation with him. And even better to shake hands with the rancher who raised the beef and thank the family personally. When I drove away, I felt like I had not only secured some meat for the year, I had built relationships and blessed others by supporting their family and their vision. They aren't just working 9-5 and picking up a paycheck... they're hoping to bless families.
Oh, and did I mention, I had the best, most tender roast I've ever tasted?