How (and why) to buy your next steak from a FARM!

Hi there!  Today I wanted to pass along some (hopefully) helpful information to any readers/friends out there who have contemplated buying some meat in bulk, but just aren’t sure how or why to go about getting started.

When we went paleo in March of 2011, we went from eating animal products at most meals to eating animal products at EVERY meal.  Needless to say, I wanted to make sure that the quality of food that we were eating was exceptional.  I had always avoided reading all of the articles and news updates regarding the mistreatment of animals on large commercial farms, because truly, I didn’t want to think about what my bacon may have lived through before it ended up on my plate.

But with this lifestyle change came a desire to be a “responsible meat eater.”  I do believe that animals are here, in large part, to be a part of the food chain.  I don’t think that my eating animal products is a bad or evil thing at all.  I think that from a nutritional standpoint, it’s incredibly beneficial to eat animals!   But I did want to know that the animals I consumed were (1) healthy, and (2) treated like God’s creature and not just a piece of livestock.

I also try to just use a common sense approach to our diets.  I imagine an animal that’s kept in a barn or building for most of its life.  Sure, it may be safe from predators and weather elements indoors, but how healthy can an animal truly be if it spends his entire life in a stall?  Animals were made to be outside, in the sun, in a field, in the woods, etc.  I just imagine what my body would look like if I were made to stand in a stall for the majority of my life without sunlight and exercise.  Would I be healthy?  No!

So, do your own research on this topic (or as much as you can stomach) but I think that most would agree that a happy, healthy animal is the best case scenario.

I began our search by simply checking out a website called www.eatwild.com.  This website includes a registry of all 50 states and all of the farms listed in each state.  So I was able to click on Texas and then just sort of browse the list and click on different farms in surrounding cities.   I found a farm that was about 30 miles away and looked at their website. I sent them an email and ended up signing up for a monthly meat subscription.   The meat that I received was totally random (I was not able to request certain cuts).  This was a great way to see what grassfed beef and pastured pork tasted like, but often I was intimidated by the more unusual cuts of meat. I canceled my subscription after only 3 months and still remember telling the owner, “I mean, if I didn’t get things like jowl in the box I would be more interested… but jowl?  What am I supposed to do with all of this jowl?  I really just wanted steaks and pork chops, you know?”  Since then I have become a huge fan of jowl!  But at the time I was just used to eating the same cuts of meat over and over again, and I hadn’t warmed up to really eating the entire animal.

Oatmeal took the next big step.  One afternoon he came home with a stand up deep freezer and announced that he wanted to order an entire cow.  We simply contacted a local rancher and split a whole steer with a family member.  But there were a few downsides to working with this rancher…

  • We never saw where the animals were raised, so we were never able to really verify with our own eyes that it was an ethical ranch where the animals were treated well.
  • We were never given a straight answer regarding the use of hormones or antibiotics with these animals (we definitely preferred antibiotic and hormone free)
  • He would only work with Oatmeal.  I’m not kidding, despite the fact that it was yours truly who would reorder our cow every 6 months and personally drive down to his ranch to pick up our meat and write him a check, whenever I had a question and gave the old man rancher a call, he would respond with, “Oh sure I have that information.  Tell your husband to give me a call and I’ll go over it with him.”    Ummmm…. what?

Meanwhile, we had found another farm that had a great reputation.  We were able to go and visit the farm, meet the farmer and his family, and ask all sorts of questions.  It was night and day different than the experience we had when ordering our cow!  We were so impressed with that farm (Yonder Way Farm) that we began ordering from them.

I personally did not think that I even cared for pork until I tried some from Yonder Way Farm in Fayatteville, Texas!  Now we have ordered at least 4 entire hogs from them.

I personally did not think that I even cared for pork until I tried some from Yonder Way Farm in Fayatteville, Texas! Now we have ordered at least 4 entire hogs from them.

So, how to get started?  Here are some tips!

  • First and foremost, you need to expect that this is never, ever, ever going to be as convenient as going to the grocery store.  It’s just not.  Don’t say, “Well I live in a city, so there is just nothing like that around here.”  If you are looking for a farm that is conveniently located just between between your children’s elementary school and the mall, you are probably going to be disappointed!  This does take some legwork, but it’s soooo worth it!
  • Step one is to find a good source!  If you literally have no idea where to begin, start with Google or EatWild.com.  If you ever shop at a farmers market, that is an even better place to start.  A lot of farmers will take their most popular cuts to markets and sell them individually, but they also sell in bulk to interested customers as well.  And this is a great chance to meet the person who is raising your food and ask them any question that you have.  Finally, if you are a member of a gym such as a Crossfit gym, there are lots of people in those circles who are knowledgeable about farms and co-ops.
  • Step two is to get to know the farmer and schedule a visit to his farm!  This is such a fun activity and one that is even more fun with a date or your kids.  Load up the car, pack a picnic lunch, and go see the place where your animals are being raised.  Invite your friends to come and make it a play date.  (Just call the farmer first, because most farmers are pretty darn busy during the day and can’t simply stop their work for drive up customers.)  Ask all of your questions and be inquisitive.  An ethical farmer will happily and openly answer all of your questions and genuinely enjoy teaching you about what he/she does all day long!
I had the most wonderful day with Poppyseed last spring.  We drove 40 miles away to a gorgeous farm and spent a few hours learning about aquaponics, dairy cows, and more!  The farmers had several children who were happy to keep Poppyseed busy for me while I learned.

I had the most wonderful day with Poppyseed last spring. We drove 40 miles away to a gorgeous farm and spent a few hours learning about aquaponics, dairy cows, and more! The farmers had several children who were happy to keep Poppyseed busy for me while I learned.

  • Step three is to “dabble” a bit.  Make a small order and get to know the different tastes and flavors associated with a truly pastured animal.  Try some beef, some pork, some chicken, etc.  Don’t be afraid to call your farmer if you have cooking questions.  I personally thought that truly pastured pork bacon was disgusting until I finally called the farmer’s wife and said, “Why is this bacon so gray and soggy and bland?  This stuff isn’t like real bacon at all!”   She laughed (because she has likely heard that a hundred times) and gave me some cooking instructions that worked like a charm.
  • By now you’ve probably learned a lot and feel ready to order an entire animal.  Please make sure you have sufficient space before you take this plunge.  Buy a deep freezer if you don’t have one, because there is simply no way that you are going to get a half of a hog or half of a cow into your small indoor freezer at home.
This is our freezer.  I like it because it is very easy to organize the meat, and I don't have to lean down and root around to find what I am looking for.

This is our freezer. I like it because it is very easy to organize the meat, and I don’t have to lean down and root around to find what I am looking for.

  • Place your order.  You may want to split your animal with another family or even several other families, but if you do this just keep in mind that you’ll be getting less of each cut.   Expect to pay a deposit at this time.  Each farm will have a different policy regarding payment, but to give you an example, I wrote a $250 check to a ranch in March in order to secure my cow for May.  Obviously this money goes toward your entire order.
  • Your farmer will likely ask you a lot of questions that will make you feel sort of like a deer in headlights.  Some examples are, “Would you prefer a younger steer?”  “Would you like us to hang your meat before it is butchered, and if so, how long?”  “Can you please fill out this cut list of all of the cuts that you would like?”  Again, a good farmer will walk you through this process and explain the pros and cons of each decision.  I just had the owner of Skip Rock Ranch call me personally and go through the “cut sheet” step by step.  He helped me decide what size roasts I wanted, whether I wanted the ground meat packed in one or two pound packages, which steaks were the best, etc.  I deferred to his experienced opinion in a lot of cases, since I had no idea!  I would also like to say that this is a step that is best done either in person or over the phone.  Unless you are experienced in this area, you will have a LOT of questions and you will end up trading 100 emails during this process.  Save yourself a lot of time and headache, and just pick up the phone!  Sometimes I am really bad about this, and I could save everyone from headache if I stopped all of the crazy emails.
  • Finally, it’s time to schedule your pickup or delivery.  About half of the farms that I have used are able to deliver to my area, and half require that you pick up your own meat.  For example, in a few weeks I’ll drive down to Austin for a trip to Whole Foods and a lunch date with a college friend before swinging by the farm on the way home to pick up my huge order of beef!
Poppyseed visiting with a happy hog.

Poppyseed visiting with a happy hog.

The last thing that has to be mentioned is the issue of price.  I would advise you to go to your local grocery store right now and take note of how much organic or grassfed beef costs.  I do 99% of my grocery shopping at a popular Texas chain called HEB, and they just recently begin carrying grassfed beef.  It is about $6-$7 per pound to buy ground meat and more expensive to buy higher end cuts such as sirloins or ribeyes.  The price of beef is sort of all over the place right now. I mentioned above that our very first source of beef would sell us a half of a cow for only $3 per pound.  We’ve also used a farm that charges nearly $9 per pound.  The ranch I am currently trying for the first time charges $4 per pound, plus an additional $0.59 per pound that we will pay directly to the butcher.  So by buying an entire cow in bulk and splitting it with a friend, I’m basically going to be paying $4.59 per pound for the best quality that there is, and when compared to the more expensive farms and the grocery stores, that is a steal!

But let’s be honest.  This cow is going to include about 600 pounds of meat.  300 pounds of that is mine.  Multiply 300 pounds by $4.59… and yep.  Did you just choke on your coffee?  I sure did the first time I got an invoice for a half of  a cow!  We lessen the blow by reminding ourselves to budget for this every single month (we put a little bit of cash in an envelope labeled “Meat Money” each time we are paid).  So every 5-6 months when it comes time to make this large purchase, we can do it without having to sell our furniture.  😉  If you do the math, you’ll see that this does truly save money in the long run!

To close this post, here are some farms that I have tried personally and enjoyed.  They have ethical practices and delicious food!  Please message me if you have any questions about how to get in touch with these farmers, or what our experiences with each has been like.

  • Yonder Way Farm – Fayatteville, Texas.  They have beef, pork, chicken, eggs, and more!
  • Sand Creek Farm – Cameron, Texas.  They specialize in dairy and vegetables, but also sell beef, pork, chicken, eggs, and more!
  • Skip Rock Ranch – New Braunfels, Texas.  They specialize in beef.
  • Jolie Vue Farms – Brenham, Texas.  I haven’t used them in a few years, but last time I used them they also had beef, pork, and chicken.
  • Home Sweet Farm – this farm actually has a public store open 6 days a week in downtown Brenham, Texas, where they sell vegetables, dairy, and various meat and poultry products.

 

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