A CSA for Meat: Get In On the Meat Share Trend

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Do you remember the first time you joined a CSA? How exciting it was to discover all those new fruits and vegetables. Well, the same thing is now available with different cuts of meats, thanks to the advent of the meat share.

Meat shares can operate like CSAs or as a part of a produce CSA, particularly those that come from farms that raise both crops and animals. But even if you already partake in a CSA that sends out meat, there's something to be said for joining a more specifically meat-based share -- not only for discovering new cuts, but also for supporting small farmers and quality meats.

What is a Meat Share?

First things first: what is a meat share? Meat shares can either be very similar to a CSA, in that a farm organizes the parcelling of different animals for a set rate, or, depending on the community, it can involve organizing the purchase, slaughter and butchery of one animal, to share amongst a smaller group.

The latter is more common in rural communities or communities where the idea of a meat CSA isn't all that popular. These are generally not widely advertised, as they tend to come together organically: locals in a community decide to buy a whole steer or hog and hire a butcher (or learn to butcher themselves!) in order to divvy up the meat.

Why Should I Join One?

The benefits of joining a meat share are numerous: supporting local farmers, ensuring that the meat you put on your table is fresh and raised the way you want it to be, or even monetary reasons, as buying in bulk can be less expensive than buying individual cuts. But one of the most interesting is an idea highlighted by Camas Davis of the Portland Meat Collective -- becoming part of a meat share allows you to learn about whole animal utilization and become an expert on the use of all parts of the animal in the kitchen.

What CSAs were for forgotten vegetables like turnips and parsnips, meat shares are for traditional butchery. "Traditional butchershops these days are not actually that traditional in terms of how they use the whole animal," Camas says. "Most butchers are using boxed cuts, maybe doing a little trimming, and putting those cuts, which are mostly muscle cuts, in the case. And that's it."

Muscle meat, she says, is only about 1/4 of the animal. With a meat share that emphasizes offal, you have to find ways to use up not only ribs and chops but also liver and kidney -- and that's part of the fun. "If we create a consumer base that wants all of the animal, that can effect how the consumer demand works," Camas says.

And don't worry -- if you've got no idea how to cook organ meats, we can help. Here are just a few great recipes to cook all those ingredients you might never have seen before:

How Do I Find a Meat Share?

Lots of different organizations already exist to help bring meat shares to the public, mostly in the form of CSAs.

On the East Coast, the Roxbury Farm offers meat shares that might appeal to those for whom offal is still a bit foreign: shares include quite a few muscle cuts. Meat is picked up at your local CSA site, and Roxbury notifies you when it's ready. Garden of Eve offers a similar, certified organic service. Devon Point Farm offers both CSAs and the option to purchase and freeze (or share!) a half cow, including liver, oxtail and more tasty treats. And North Mountain Pastures and Bostrom Farm allow you to choose if you want organ meats or not in your share.

On the West Coast, Rangeland Wines offers grass-fed beef and lamb shares. Morris Grassfed grants the customer quite a bit of choice; you start with a traditional half or quarter and can add the offal cuts that interest you. You can even opt for a CSA-style delivery in four batches if you don't have the freezer space to store the whole delivery. Marin Sun Farms offers whole and half pork, lamb and goat shares and whole, half and quarter beef shares. Clark Summit Farms highlights whole and half shares as their preferred way to sell their meat; the benefit to the customer is a cheaper price and dibs on all the great organ meats.

In the Midwest, Nature's Choice Farms transforms some of their shares into burger patties, sausages and hot dogs. Mint Creek Farms offers goat alongside veal, lamb, pork, beef and poultry in their shares, with whole and half-shares available in CSA style.

What If I Don't Have One Near Me?

Then you can start your own!

While CSA meat shares are the most common, they're not the only way to participate in a meat share. That being said, other forms of meat shares are not as widely talked about, so the best way to get involved is usually to take action and start your own.

There are lots of ways to start your own meat share if a farm near you doesn't have one. Find a cowpooling source near you to get in touch with other people who might be interested in investing in purchasing a whole animal, and try this fantastic guide to organizing a meat share to learn some of the ins and outs of organization.

Above all, seek out a resource like a local butcher or butchery school to make sure you'll have the resources needed to break down the animal. And, of course, clean out your freezer first -- it's going to fill up!

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Beef image from Shutterstock: racorn

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