The pandemic shaped our food buying habits in many ways, and buying in bulk is infamously one of them. Last year, deep freezers and refrigerators were notoriously hard to source, as buying a “side of beef,” or a portion of a cow, became vogue.
Tim Haer is the co-owner of Green Grass Cattle Company and Mercantile, a family-run cattle farm with a new storefront in Weston. He’s been a cattle rancher for years and loves working with customers who have questions about the beef they’re consuming. Like many farmers, he’s seen an uptick in interest in buying directly from farmers.
“I thought that this shift would happen sooner or later,” says Tim. “It’s been a lot quicker than I anticipated. We’ve had numerous requests from people all over the place. It just started out with friends and family and now I talk to about 2 people a week who are interested. There’s been a huge interest in people buying a side or buying in bulk.”
Tim’s family’s farm is half a mile from their storefront off of 45 Highway in Weston, and their meat is all processed within the Kansas City metro area.
“The whole concept is to provide the public the ability to purchase local, naturally-raised, responsibly raised cuts of meat,” says Tim. “They know the farmer — they know who took care of that animal.”
Green Grass sells individual cuts of meat but also shares of cows, which means you can purchase a whole, half, or quarter of one individual cow. Tim says there are many benefits to buying in bulk by buying a share.
“By buying a side of beef, you control every ounce of that product,” says Tim. “You can call out which steaks you want — if you want them cut an inch thick [or thicker], you can determine that on your own. By buying a share of a cow, you’re ensuring that that cut was designed to be that cut. If you’re going to a grocery store and you’re buying five pounds of ground beef, that could come from multiple animals. If you’re buying a side or a share, that all comes from one animal.”
If you’re new to buying a share of beef, questions about the cuts can be overwhelming. Sometimes these questions will be asked by the farmer, or sometimes you’ll communicate them straight to the processor — the place that divides the cow up and packages it for you to take home.
“One of the other things that really surprises people when they buy a side or a share is how much ground beef they end up with,” says Tim. “If they buy a half of a cow and let’s say the net packaged wrapped meat comes out to be 300 lbs, they’re typically surprised they’re not getting 200 lbs of steaks and roasts — it’s closer to the opposite.”
There are a few things you’ll want to communicate with the farmer or processor about how you want your meat. Tim says sometimes this conversation can be loaded with jargon that consumers aren’t comfortable with, so he tries to break it down into easy-to-understand questions. He likes to ask: How many people are in your family? How many times a week is beef the centerpiece of your meal? What kind of meals do you like — tacos, burgers, roasts, steak, etc? He also makes sure to ask if someone has dietary restrictions, like high cholesterol, because if they do, it might be better to go with leaner cuts than a bunch of ribeyes and 80/20 ground beef.
When buying a side of beef, you’re actually paying for two services — you’re paying the farmer for the animal and you’re paying the processor to cut and package it all up for you. So you’ll pay a lump sum for the meat and also a processing fee — sometimes by writing one check or two. You’ll want to add these two figures together and divide them by the net weight of the cow to determine how much you’re paying per pound.
“There’s a pretty big fiscal advantage,” says Tim. “It’s very cost-effective to buy a side of beef. If you’re buying individual cuts, on average you’re paying $10-15 a cut. [In buying a share,] I’ve seen prices as low as $2.50/lb. The highest I’ve seen is $4/lb. It’s very cost-effective to go through that manner.”
The cow will have a few different weights — the live weight, the hanging weight, and the net weight. The hanging weight is the weight of the animal after the inedible parts, like the hide and carcass, have been removed (but don’t worry! Nothing is wasted and there are many byproducts made from the parts of the cow you don’t consume). The net weight is what ends up in your freezer — the nicely packaged cuts that are ready for your grill. A 1500 pound cow might have a 900-pound hanging weight and net weight of 600 pounds ready for your table.
Not only is buying a share of a cow more inexpensive overall, but it can be better for the environment than sourcing individual cuts of meat from the grocery store.
“It’s more environmentally friendly for everyone,” says Tim. “If you think about it, those cows have to get on a truck, they have to get there and get processed. They’re getting shipped all over the country. By buying it locally, especially when you’re processing it locally, they’re not going more than 2 hours and then going direct to consumer.”
Like many aspects of our lives, the pandemic called our food sources into question. Last year, when grocery store shelves were empty, we started to ask ourselves how our food was really getting to our tables, and if this is the way we really wanted to feed ourselves and our families. Was there a better way? Thankfully, farmers like Tim are showing us that there is, and they’re happy to guide us there.
Green Grass Cattle Company + Mercantile
17985 MO-45 N, Weston, MO 64098
Looking to buy direct from your local farmers but lost on where to look? Here are some good places to start.
Check your local farmer’s market. Even if what you’re looking for isn’t sold at your local farmer’s market, chances are the vendors know other farmers. Ask around — and if a vendor has an item that’s similar to what you’re looking for but not the exact thing, you can always ask where to find it! They might have what you need or know where to find it.
Search a directory. Missouri Farm Bureau has a giant directory of meat producers that you can narrow down by county at mofb.org/missouri-meat-producers. If you’re looking for all sorts of things, not just meat, you can try Missouri Grown at missourigrownusa.com. For beef, we obviously love Green Grass, but we also love ordering from Kansas City Beef Company at kcbeefco.com or Kansas City Cattle Company at kccattlecompany.com.
Ask a processor. It might seem intimidating going into a processor if you’ve never been before, but they work directly with farmers every day — and most of them are farmers themselves, too! Bichelmeyer Meats (who works with Green Grass) is pictured here and based out of Kansas City, KS and a lot of local farmers also work with Paradise Locker Meats, who raise their own pigs.