From Nose to Tail, Philadelphia CowShare Brings Local, Grass-Fed Beef to Philly

Forget the shrink-wrapped cuts at the ACME—get your grass-fed, pasture-raised beef directly from local farmers.

Like beef but suffer from an overbearing conscience? Here’s a way to have your meat and eat it, too: Philadelphia CowShare, a farm-to-table, CSA-like service in which subscribers receive deliveries of farm-fresh, grass-fed beef right to their doors. Yup, that’s right—Philly is sharing cows.

Two years ago, the city that’s become internationally known for its beef products (cheesesteaks, people!) became home to a business dedicated to bringing humane, healthy farming practices to the area, one cow at a time.

“We wanted to take the old-fashioned concept of meat distribution and put a modern twist on it,” says Jessica Moore, Philadelphia CowShare founder and owner.

But the concept isn’t really that old-fashioned at all—it’s one Moore was raised on during her childhood years in Indiana: communities coming together and sharing in the yield of an animal, rather than purchasing meat at a grocery store. She’s found that many Philadelphians want this experience, too.

“There is a strong local food culture here that’s been growing for years,” Moore says. “[But] we don’t tend to walk through a farmers’ market and buy a lot of meat; it’s not what we’re used to. Having gone through two seasons being here, Philadelphians seem to have taken to the [cow share] concept.”

That’s because it’s not all that foreign; community-shared agriculture programs, which employ the same from-the-farm principles, thrive here. Here’s how Philadelphia CowShare works: Simply sign up and pay to split the meat of a cow with other people. You can choose from one-eighth, one-fourth, one-half or full cow shares. Once ordered, each cut is processed, age-dried for at least 14 days, and individually packaged, vacuum sealed and labeled. Within about four to five weeks, it’s delivered. Easy, right?

But the convenience of Philadelphia CowShare isn’t the only thing that draws people in; the health benefits and the environmental and ethical outcomes are really what make the program unique.

Let’s face it: The industrial cattle system in the States has raised some serious eyebrows over the years. Farmers often earn only a small percentage of beef profits because there are so many hands involved in the process; consumers only want high-end steaks, so other parts of the cow are wastefully discarded; and, according to research, conventional grain-fed cows may make for less-heathy meat than grass-fed ones, yet the former are considered the norm. Not to mention the animal cruelty aspect.

Because it’s such a massive industry, farmers and consumers are ultimately the ones suffering. Philadelphia CowShare offers another option for our community. “We provide complete transparency for the customer,” Moore says. “We tell you what farm the beef is from, where it’s located and the story about the farmer. For people who want to understand the complete process, we’ve lived it and can explain it.”

The company prides itself on its long and strict list of standards, which all participating farmers and butchers must abide by, regulating each animal’s environment, diet and overall treatment. One of the most important stipulations of the company is that 100 percent of the beef distributed must come from grass-fed cows raised in pastures.

“It takes anywhere from 18 to 26 months to raise steer solely on grass,” Moore explains. “Cattle getting a more high-caloric, starchy feed will be taken to market at around 15 months, so you have a whole extra winter. Grass-fed cows will also be lighter than conventional cattle because they have less inter-muscular fat, producing less poundage.”

Moore says supporting that the farmers and butchers themselves—i.e. ensuring they are not only local (within 150 miles of Philly’s City Hall) but also paid fairly—is of utmost importance to her business.

“We want to build the business without subsidy, meaning we want it to be financially viable for all players,” she says. “If the farmer and butcher aren’t profitable, they won’t be in business for very long and we won’t have a product.”

Supporting local farmers, more humane treatment of cows and healthier beef—seems like a pretty cool concept, if you ask me.

For more information about Philly CowShare, go here.