The big cost savings of buying straight from a farm

After years of suffering from a chronic illness, DaNelle Wolford turned urban farming in a big way, growing her own vegetables and even raising her own goats. Noticing that her health improved vastly with a diet of “real” food, the founder of Weed ’Em and Reap also began buying meat from a local farm instead of her nearest mega-chain grocery store.

The Arizona mom was pleasantly surprised to discover that purchasing natural, grass-fed beef straight from a nearby farmer was not only better for her health (no antibiotics or hormones in the animals raised on the ranch she frequents) but it also proved better for her budget.

The “farm to table” philosophy that so many restaurants across the country tout is one that more individuals are embracing too, and it doesn’t just apply to local berries and leafy greens. Health- and eco-conscious consumers want to know where their food comes from and have a keen interest in sustainability.

Then there’s the financial aspect. For Wolford, buying bulk grass-fed beef directly from a farmer works out to about $5 per pound compared to nearly $6 a pound at her local grocery store and close to $9 at a health-food store. That’s for a range of cuts, from ground beef and brisket to rump roast and porterhouse steak.

Of course, prices will vary from region to region and farm to farm. But there are basic facts to keep in mind when it comes to going whole (or half) hog (or cow). The most important thing to grasp is that farmers will have different prices based on live weight, hanging weight, or take-home weight.

“Live weight is the weight of the live animal, full grown and ready to butcher,” Wolford explains. “Expect around 1,000 pounds [for a steer]. Hanging weight is the weight of the carcass, after it’s butchered, skinned, de-headed, and gutted. This will be about 60 per cent of the live weight. So if your live animal weighed 1,000 pounds, your hanging weight should be about 600 pounds. The take-home weight is about 60 per cent of the hanging weight. So if your hanging weight was 600 pounds, then your take home weight should be 360.

“It’s understandable that if you’re purchasing at the live weight, your price will be super low,” she says. “You might see ‘$1.37 a pound’ for a live weight and assume this is an extremely cheap price, but you must understand that once your live animal is butchered, and the scraps are discarded, you’ll end up paying more per pound for your take-home beef. Assuming your live animal is 1000 lbs, and you pay for 250 pounds of that—let’s say you only want a 1/4 of a steer—at $1.37/lb. you’re paying $342.50, but you won’t be taking home all 250 pounds. You’ll probably come home with about 90 pounds of beef.”

On top of that are butcher fees. (You get to specify which cuts you want and the quantity of each.)

So where to start if you find yourself asking ‘Where’s the beef?’

Wolford suggests visiting a couple of farms first before placing an order, paying attention to the animals’ living conditions. “The animal should be living in a natural environment,” Wolford says. “This means it should have access to a large pasture.”

Let’s say you like what you see, but you live in a condo or don’t happen to have a Kardashian-size freezer. That’s when you go in with a pal.

“A quarter of a steer is the smallest amount farmers will sell in bulk,” Wolford says. “If you don’t want to buy a freezer or can’t afford one, split a 1/4 a steer with a friend. You’ll each get an eighth of a steer, and you should have room in your regular freezer if you organize it all really well.”

It may take a simple Google search to find a local farm. LocalHarvest.org, an organic and local food website, also has listings. Alternatively, ask at local health- or organic-grocery stores or ask friends. Online classifieds sites often have postings as well.

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