Gimme a Share, Gimme a Share, Cut Me Off a Piece o’ that Grass-Fed Cow
June 7, 2012 | Kelly Hatton
The story of Philadelphia CowShare began when founder Jessica Moore bought her first steer. Moore, an urbanite with a professional background in product development, wanted to feed her family quality, locally produced food. She was looking for an economical and efficient option to purchase grass-fed beef and went straight to the source.
“I literally just walked up to a farmer at our farmers market and told him I wanted to buy a steer,” Moore said.
Realizing that 400 lbs. of beef far exceeded what her family could eat in a year, Moore organized a group of friends and family to share the harvest. Beyond the obvious benefit of a freezer full of responsibly produced beef, Moore discovered the satisfaction of sharing an animal and a palpable connection to the farm and food production. She wanted other non-farmers to be able to experience community created around a shared food supply.
So in 2010 Moore launched Philadelphia CowShare, a service that allows Philadelphia residents to go online to phillycowshare.com to order a portion of a cow and have the share delivered to their door in four to five weeks. Customers can choose to purchase an eighth, quarter, half or full share. Philadelphia CowShare takes care of the logistics of butchering, packaging, portioning and the delivery.
“The way that the beef is packaged brings back the old fashioned way, especially if you lived a life that was touched by agriculture,” Moore said. She explained that butchering was (and in some communities, still is) an event where neighbors and family would gather to do the work of slaughtering and butchering the animal and would go home after a days work with a portion.
“The magic of CowShare is that we’ve made that experience more accessible for people in urban areas. Our customers, what they’re doing is sharing the bounty of an animal with other people,” she said.
Part of CowShare’s work is to connect customers with an understanding of livestock production, starting with the basics: how much meat does one cow produce? CowShare’s website helps customers gauge the quantities of different share sizes. For families with 1-2 adults and 0-2 young children, CowShare recommends an eighth of a share, which amounts to 43 lbs. of beef and will fill seventy-five percent of a standard freezer.
The company currently sources cattle from six Pennsylvania farms. All cows are raised according to standards outlined on CowShare’s website:
“We personally visit each farm and talk with the farmer to guarantee the cows are grass-fed and free of growth hormones and antibiotics. We also require the farm to follow sustainable, organic farming practices, but do not require the USDA organic certification.”
Martha Roberts of Pretty Meadow Farm connected with Moore through their shared butcher, Smucker’s Meats in Mount Joy, PA. Roberts and her husband have been raising grass-fed cows in Perry County, PA for twenty years. After an introduction, Moore visited the farm to tour the land and facilities and talk with the Roberts about their protocols. The farmers were impressed by Moore’s acquired knowledge of the multifarious aspects of beef production.
“She says she’s fascinated by farmers,” Roberts said of Moore, “and we’re fascinated by her business model and what she’s doing.”
Moore left the farm after that first visit with samples of Pretty Meadow’s beef, and a few weeks later, the farm was added to CowShare’s list of producers. For the Roberts, the CowShare model has been a great way to market their beef.
“It’s typically small farms that do most of the work themselves,” Roberts explained. “Most of our peers are spending their time taking care of their animals or their vegetables. I don’t think any of us got into farming to be marketers. So for us it’s really a great way to get our products to market locally.”
Moore stays in close communication with CowShare’s suppliers about all things production related, from pasture management to herd genetics, which allows her to function as a conduit between farmer and customer.
“It’s about small business relationships,” she said. “One of the best things we can do for our customers is tell them about the farmers and share their story.” In return, Moore shares customer feedback with suppliers.
“The more information farmers have about what customers want, the better they can run their business,” she said.
Moore encourages her customers to follow her lead and educate themselves about their food supply. In a recent CowShare newsletter, she shared her experience working with Smuckers Meats, a family owned butcher that follows Temple Grandin’s model for compassionate treatment of animals in the slaughterhouse.
“While I know this is a touchy subject for many folks,” wrote Moore, “it is an important and necessary aspect of our food production. When you buy beef from Philly CowShare, you can be sure the animal was processed with respect by people like you and me, not machines, in a safe, clean environment.”
In the next year, Moore hopes to expand CowShare’s offerings to include pork shares. Currently, she’s educating herself on pork production. The company also will launch a new website in the coming months, and is working towards other means of expansion.
“What we’re doing is building out the business model by developing the technology to market and transact the business,” Moore said.
Philadelphia CowShare has thus far successfully managed the logistical details of a complicated operation. It’s a model that Moore hopes to continue to perfect and potentially expand to serve other regions. This year, the company is on target to reach it’s projected sale of 180-200 steers.
An impressive start for a young company, backed by solid technology and a genuine enthusiasm for farmers and connecting customers to the story of sustainable cattle production.