One of the great things about contributing to a blog like this one is that people will email us, providing information, insights, suggestions, and other helpful tips. In the last couple of weeks, we here at Locavore Central (Seattle branch) received a comment from a local Seattleite. We corresponded a bit, and she mentioned that she's part of a group working on putting together a meat CSA. A meat CSA? The Man of La Muncha and I immediately subscribed to the group.
It turns out that a group of concerned citizens, finding that Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma was the straw that broke the proverbial cow's back, had banded together to determine whether or not they could use the CSA model to buy meat in addition to produce. Members talked to several ranchers, and arranged for ranchers to come in and talk to the group in a more informal environment. From the archives, it appears as though Crown S Ranch in Winthrop was the winner, due to the flavor of the grass-fed beef, though it appears that the timeframe to beef slaughter (typically in mid-summer) was also a factor, as was their willingness and ability to work with a smaller group such as this.
A meat CSA is an excellent way for meat eaters who may not necessarily have coffin freezers in their basements or the ability to buy an entire cow at time to buy meat that is grass-fed, slaughtered humanly, and delivered on a regular basis. Since federal, and most state, laws allow the producer to slaughter an animal that is purchased in its entirety as a "courtesy" rather than sending it to a USDA slaughterhouse, the CSA model provides an ideal venue for ensuring that meat of any kind is killed in a more transparent manner. The livestock are killed locally at a "custom exempt" facility", which allows the animals to be killed on site, reducing the stress and strain on the animal of being transported several miles away to the slaughterhouse.
For the meat CSA, a basic share was 1/8 of a steer, approximately forty-nine pounds, over the course of seven deliveries. The ranch agreed to store the beef in their deep freezers and deliver it over a course of seven months. Other products, such as pork, poultry, and eggs, can be added on for an additional fee. The basic share does not include organ meats, which is a relief, as we wouldn't know what to do with them and aren't fans of organ meat. In addition, all basic shares will receive some tenderloin, so no one ends up with all hamburger, all the time.
I'm very excited by the idea of the CSA paradigm being extended to livestock. It's a way for people to be involved with where their meat is coming from, especially larger livestock such as cows and pigs. It may be somewhat easier to find a chicken that has been pastured and humanely slaughtered (you could do it yourself if need be), but it's somewhat more rare to be certain that you are buying a particular cow that has been raised a particular way and killed in a particular manner.