Have a cow: A new way to buy beef makes its way to DC

WASHINGTON Steak fans, sink your teeth into this: A quality cut of sustainable beef is now just a click away.

Last week, the Seattle-based startup Crowd Cow expanded its reach to the D.C. area.

The company sells cuts of sustainable meat from small farms across the U.S., one cow at a time, using a crowdfunding model. In fact, co-founder Joe Heitzeberg likens the business to “Kickstarter for cows.”

Here’s how it works: Consumers log on to the Crowd Cow website and find a featured cow. One day it may be a rare breed of grass-fed, grass-finished cattle from family farmers in upstate New York; the next it could be American-raised wagyu beef from a small farm in Washington.

Interested parties select their desired cuts — everything from hanger steaks, to shanks, to round roasts and even soup bones are available for sale — and once most of the cow is claimed, the credit cards are charged and the meat ships.

Then, a new cow gets featured, and a new selection of cuts are made available for sale.

Heitzeberg, who launched Crowd Cow less than two years ago with business partner Ethan Lowry, says the idea is to give consumers a more convenient way to buy quality cuts of meat.

“The beef you find in the store or online typically comes through a broker, rolled up through four big corporations and takes a factory-farming approach whether it has a grass-fed sticker or not. You have no idea where it actually came from, who produced it, who raised it or how they raised it,” he said.

In search of better options, Heitzeberg learned of friends who would trek out to nearby farms and purchase a whole cow at a time. With limited freezer space, that didn’t really work for him; and a trip to the local farmers market for smaller quantities wasn’t always conducive to his schedule.

The two founders wanted to bring the quality and transparency that one gets from purchasing meat directly from the farmer to the convenience of an online marketplace. Thus, Crowd Cow was born.

The cost of the meat on Crowd Cow is similar to what one might expect to pay in a specialty foods store or butcher shop. Recent sales for premium ground beef from a grass-fed, grass-finished Murray Grey cow, for example, rang in around $16 for 2 pounds; a 6.5-pound share of brisket sold for $65.

Heitzeberg says the Crowd Cow model not only helps the conscious consumer, but it also benefits small, sustainable farmers.

“The thing about the producers the ones that have heritage breed pork and this and that they are spending so much time on that craft of the breeding program, keeping those animals healthy … that doing online marketing is a whole other world to them,” Heitzeberg said.

Those who sell meat at the farmers market have a limited reach and can’t always move all the different cuts that they have.

“It ends up being very inefficient and high cost for them. Doing an online sale is even harder because they don’t have the logistics to manage. If you’re not buying 10,000 pounds of dry ice every Monday morning, you can’t buy dry ice at a good cost,” Heitzeberg added.

Currently, Crowd Cow is working with two farms in the D.C. area, including Cottonwood Ranch in Front Royal, Virginia, and Dragonfly Farms in Beaverdam, Virginia. Heitzeberg says he’s looking to expand to even more local farms in the near future and possibly even more animals, such as whole hog.

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