Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Community Supported Beef?

Yesterday I ran across an interesting article on CSA's (Community Supported Agriculture) and the normal risks involved with farming in general. The article is titled, "When things go very wrong: Community Supported Agriculture and shared risk", and is the cover article on the New Farm website. I thought it was a pretty interesting article detailing some of the risks involved in CSA's and market garden farming. The idea is where does the "community support" come into the CSA? CSA's are supposed to spread the risk out for the farmer by bringing in some money up front. But, what happens when disaster strikes at the farm?

That is a good question to ponder and there are probably lots of thoughts that could be kicked around. Many of the CSA farmers mentioned in the article said they didn't really pass on all of the "risk" to their customers and did buy in food or refund money if there was something like a late frost or flood. But, that isn't really what got me thinking after I read the article.

What got me thinking was the idea of a beef/pork/poultry/etc. based CSA. I know these exist in some places and there are something that I would be interested in learning more about. But, the main reason they interest me is the idea of spreading out the risk (and I don't know how I really feel about that from a business standpoint). How would it work for people to buy shares of a beeve or pig? What would sharing the risk look like in that case?

Of course if you were going to give people a weekly subscription of meat then you would need plenty of storage of prepared cuts. On the positive I suppose you could do a better job of distributing all of the cuts and ground meat. Maybe...

So, what are your thoughts on meat/livestock CSA's or CSA's in general? I would love to hear what everyone thinks!

7 comments:

Tala said...

I would love to subscribe to a meat CSA in my area of NC, but I don't think such a thing exists. However, unlike vegetables, I think a weekly subscription would be overwhelming because we don't eat meat every single day and it can more easily be stored (frozen) than fresh veggies. I would think every other week would be plenty. Once a month might be easier on the farmer, but then I'd need a bigger freezer! It would be important to educate your consumers on ways to use the less common cuts of meat.

Dave_Flora said...

The great idea behind a CSA is the connection that is formed between the farmer and customer..and the farmer should do his/her best to promote the "our farm" experience. However, as the article said, it's probably not a great idea for a farmer to jump right into. Experience is key in consistant production, and with CSA's overproduction is the norm.
The Beef CSA idea is a good one...people like fresh meat...but as Tala said, they don't need weekly subscriptions, and most people don't have enough freezer space to accomodate a half or whole beef.
I'd even given thought to having an extra freezer chest...big enough to hold a beef and offering storage if someone bought a whole beef. That way, they could stop by at their convenience and pick up a bag of whatever selection they wanted. You'd have to take electricity and space usage into account, but I would rather store it on the farm and have the customer come to get some (maybe buying some bread or other item to go with it) than to leave the farm and deliver.
I think with any of this, the best idea is to start small so you can afford to experiment and see what fits you and your customers.
I'd love to read other folks ideas!
-Dave

Rich said...

CSA vegetable farms plant a wide variety of vegetables to balance any crop failures. If the green bean crop is smaller than expected, it can be balanced by more sweet corn, etc. Exotic or unusual vegetables would also have a place in a CSA to balance any crop shortages, fewer exotic melons would be more "valued" than melons that can be easily found in the supermarket.

I would assume that a CSA subscription would be similar to the way most Share-Crop leases for conventional crops are set up, the farmer and the landowner share the expense of planting the crop, and then share in the harvest. If there is a crop failure, they both lose their portion of money spent to plant the crop. The difference is that in a CSA, the farmer is pre-selling his crop to the final consumer, if he can't deliver the crop, he must refund the money pre-paid for the crop, but he wouldn't refund the money paid by the landowner used to plant the crop. A meat CSA would be different because there it isn't really a comparable lease agreement, unless you compare it to some of small-grain stocker cattle grazing leases. The landowner plants the small-grain pasture, and the cattle owner pays for the cattle that are stocked, the cattle are weighed before going on the pasture and then weighed after leaving the pasture. A set proportion of the increased weight goes to the landowner and the rest goes to the cattle owner, any death-loss or theft is deducted from the total. I'm not sure how you could adapt this lease arrangement to a CSA.

On the subject of marketing a mat CSA, a variety of meat products delivered "seasonally" with a choice between a "basic" or "premium" subscription would be an attractive way to set up a meat-based CSA. Meat products that are difficult to find in conventional stores would be one way to differentiate between a "basic" and a "premium" meat subscription.

The basic subscription would include things like chicken broilers, pastured pork, sides or quarters of beef, a turkey for Thanksgiving, etc.

A premium subscription would include mostly premium cuts of Dexter beef, Iberico-style heritage pork from larger hogs, larger (8-10 lb) roaster chickens, Heritage turkeys for Thanksgiving, some lamb or mutton, etc.

This website might give you some ideas on marketing your products:

http://www.oklahomafood.coop/
category_list.php?category_id=2&offset=2

Ethan Book said...

It has taken me awhile to catch up with everything, but I did want to mention that I really enjoyed the comments on this post. The every other week or once a month meat CSA does sound like a pretty good idea. I know I would love to get a basket of pork and beef a couple times a month!

Niti said...

I run a meat CSA here in NC. It is totally possible to do! I am doing it! I would love to help feed you or show you how you can do this in your neck of NC! It is vital to eat meats from your own hunting range.

Check it out. www.farmtoforkmeat.com

I support the Triangle area community. I believe in supporting local farmers and ranchers and allowing the community to eat meats from their hunting range which is healthier. All my partners meats are ethically raised on farms or ranches with balanced eco systems. I would love to offer you a tour of the farms and ranches so you can meet the folks who are raising these animals yourself! All the money paid for your week to week al a carte meat is directly profiting the local producers. Without REAL FARMS we can not have REAL FOOD and that is my mission. To bring my community REAL FOOD while supporting the REAL FARMERS and RANCHERS. I hope I am able to meet and help feed some of you!

Respectfully,
Niti Bali

AnotherOpinion said...

Hey Ethan,
good conversation starter...

I live just outside Nashville... i'm sure you heard about our big once in a 1,000 year flood last year... a local CSA in our county got totalled flooded out... they lost their entire crop plus a lot of damage to infrastructure... they scrambled to grow some seaonal stuff, like pumpkins and strawberrys while they try to salvage their business... i don't know if they refunded... i would think some sort of agreement to address the risk is warranted...


as far as beef CSAs... If a consumer is serious about all-natural, grass-finished, no harmones, steroids, or other drugs then why wouldn't they spring for a used upright or chest freezer to accomodate either a 1/2 or whole beef? only makes sense....

or you could encourage them to "buddy up" with some of their friends to take a 1/2 and split it two, three or more ways... let them take the initiative if 1/2 is too big... as for the cattleman - it seems like a tall order to sell anything less than 1/4... and no storage is necessary... you send it straigth to the processor and the customer pays the processing fee and the customer is responsible to pickup their order... NO STORAGE needed by farmer... problem solved.

just my opinion

Brandon said...

Tala, .......if your interested in a CSA in your area look at my website.....we are at the Yorkmont farmers market every saturday.

Our CSA is a 2 times a month meat CSA......customers have the option of a full share (twice a month) or a 1/2 share (once a month)

each delivery is a mixture of beef, pork and chicken usually around 10lb or $50 worth (which ever comes first) :)

Its not really a true CSA concept with meat ......more like a "buying club"

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