I like to think I’m only semi-crunchy but the more I’ve been thinking about my own carbon footprint, the crunchier I get. Lately I’ve been percolating thoughts about meat and its impact on the environment. Michael Pollan wrote a famous book I haven’t read called the The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals. It’s on my list though, so forgive me if you’ve read it and I seem painfully naive.
One of the main ways to go zero waste is to buy things in bulk. Bea Johnson goes to stores that sell in bulk and buys portions for her nuclear family. When you have a big family, you just buy the 50 lb bag or whatever. So I started thinking about buying a cow.
As an aside, obviously being a vegetarian or even a vegan is the most environmentally responsible choice. Personally, I’m not sure my life is worth living without steak.
Reduced packaging was my original goal and I was really hoping that I could find a butcher that would use butcher paper so I could compost it. One farm owner told me that they vacuum sealed their meat in plastic because butcher paper is coated in polyethylene, which can leach into the meat. That was an interesting statement because polyethylene is plastic. Which is just to say that it’s good to be educated about these things. Also, butcher paper apparently isn’t compostable like I originally thought.
I eventually settled on the following conclusions:
- The vacuum sealed plastic is just polyethylene – not the mixed materials that Wegmans uses, so if I’m motivated I actually can wash and recycle it (recycling isn’t ideal but sometimes omnivores have to make these compromises).
- The food is driven in from one hour away once or twice a year, as opposed to being trucked in from Virginia.
- The cows are fed grass (which they are designed to eat), and not corn (which they would never normally eat), which is better for the environment and people in a thousand ways.
- The cows are treated well and only have one bad day.
- We’re supporting the local economy.
We sold our freezer several years ago because it was a place where leftovers awaited their eventual death. I had no idea that in a few years I’d been shopping around for entire cows. So the first order of business was to buy a freezer.
While that was in the works, I also had to learn some terminology.
Bulk Beef Terminology – what is hanging weight anyway?
When you buy beef in bulk you buy it by the fraction – a quarter cow (135 lbs), a half cow (275 lbs) or a whole cow (550 lbs). But you actually only get about 60% of that in the retail version you’re probably familiar with. This post breaks down the concept of hanging weight in very understandable terms. Or if you’re visual, you may want to check out an image of what a freezer full of meat might look like. These people have a nice visual for you.
I briefly thought about trying to figure out the cost/benefit analysis but hit a mental roadblock, so skipped over about fifteen steps and settled on the benefits rather than the costs.
Local Farms that sell grass fed beef in bulk
Then I compiled a list of local farms selling bulk beef (as far as I could tell) within an hour driving distance to Rochester or farms that are in regular attendance at local Rochester farmer’s markets. A reader did point out that some of these are not 100% grass fed. I’ve updated with the information I have access to. As with anything, be sure to also do your own research. This is only meant to be a starting point.
- Bedient Farms, Potter, NY (1 hour) – beef, chicken, turkey, lamb and pork, $3.60 hanging weight including butchering and delivery. They primarily feed their cows grass, but use some grains over the winter. They are working toward 100% grass fed.
- Beam’n Farms, Abion, NY with Rochester delivery – beef, $3.85-$4 hanging weight.
- Bird’s Hollow Beef Farm, Stanley, NY (1 hour), beef.
- Ed’s Organics, Springwater, NY (1 hour), $4.50/lb hanging weight for beef
- Gal-A-Tin Acres, Scottsville, NY, beef, poultry, pork.
- Ganz Farms, Lyons, NY (1 hour), beef, poultry, pork. (not sure about bulk)
- Golden Oaks Farm, Honeoye, NY – beef (not sure about bulk)
- Happy Hooves, Cato, NY – (available at the Brighton Farmer’s Market)
- Heiden Valley Farm, Lyons, NY (50 minutes), beef, poultry, chicken. 100% grass fed beef.
- Honey Hill Highlands, Hilton, NY – they have very little information on their relatively primitive website.
- Honeyville Farms, Livonia, NY (30 minutes), beef.
- McDonald Farm, Fingerlakes Regiion with deliveries to Rochester. Beef, lamb, pork, chickens. 100% grass fed.
- Mossy Rock Farm, Naples, NY – delivery to Canandaigua and Rochester, beef
- Our Lady of Victory Farm, Victory, NY (1 hour), beef, $4.50 to $5 hanging weight.
- Stone Hedge Beef, Scottsville, NY (20 minutes) – beef, $3.25+ plus processing.
Seven Bridges Farm in Lima, NY was sent to me by a number of people and I originally had it listed. However, a reader pointed out that they are not clear about what percentage of their cows’ diet is actually grass versus grain. While they do not use hormones or routine antibiotics, they do not appear to have primarily grass fed cattle and so have been removed from this list. I did email them and this was their response:
Good morning and thank you for your interest we don’t have a percentage because we have when their babies once they’re weaned off of milk they can graze on grass as much or as little as they choose we also have a animal nutritionist that we’ve worked with for years so once they’ve been weaned off of milk they have a balanced diet in front of them that we grow ourselves along with grazing . Feel free to give me a call anytime we can talk about this when more detail if you like. Barrita
In the end we went with Bedient Farms – primarily because their website was super user friendly and they had the cheapest hanging weight, with delivery and butchering fees included. Angela Bedient personally drove the meat to our house and stuck around to make sure we were happy and our cow was situated in the freezer.
So how do you cook the weird cuts?
One problem with buying part of a cow is that you get fantastic cuts of meat, but also meats that are less popular and more difficult to chew if cooked incorrectly. Fortunately, I have a resident meat expert at my house. My mom grew up on a ranch eating poorly cooked beef, which was so traumatic that reversing the experience essentially became her life’s work. Her spaghetti may stick together but her meat will never be dry!
Soon I hope to have a guest post with her explaining how to cook difficult cuts of meat by how it looks. The names are very difficult to go by since creatively naming cow parts seems to be a past time of butchers everywhere (for example Flat Iron Steak, Book Steak, Butler Steak, Lifter Steak, Petite Steak, Top Chuck Steak, Boneless, Blade Steak and Chuck Eye Steak are all the same thing).
My mom said that the tougher cuts are the ones that come from a part of the cow that is used a lot – such as the shoulder. But I have to confess looking at the chart, I’m not really sure where frequently used cow muscles live.
Which is all to say that this skill can be mastered, I just haven’t yet. Essentially if the meat is from a lesser used muscle then you want to cook it on high heat quickly and if the meat is from a frequently used muscle then you want to marinate it for a long time in an acidic marinade (e.g. wine, vinegar, soy sauce, etc.). Or you could just come over for dinner.
We’ve been eating beef more often than we probably should since our delivery and it’s been pretty much fantastic. Having it all handy in my garage and knowing I’m supporting the local economy and making a decent choice for the environment is a win win for us.
If I missed any farms or you have any experiences or thoughts to add please leave a comment below!