A couple of months ago, I met Tracey Wilson and her husband Darrol at a South Jersey foodie tweet-up. Within half and hour of meeting them, they were inviting me to a “Meet the Meat” party to celebrate their entry into cowpooling (unfortunately, I was unable to attend).
Tracey and Darrol have three teenage boys at home. They moved to South Jersey from Florida a couple of years ago to be closer to their oldest son and his wife and to live up to the family mission statement we had created in the mid-1990's "To be happy, healthy productive citizens of the earth."
I asked Tracey to share her story about how her family’s mission statement led them to cowpooling.
What made you decide to become a cowpooler?
We moved to downsize our house by 50 percent and to live in a more urban community that allowed us to rely less on our car and more on our feet. We found such a community in Mullica Hill where we can walk practically everywhere we need to go. The "happy" part of the mission statement was in place with a change in job and proximity to all our kids. The walking and our new garden certainly were part of the "healthy," and our involvement in our community was part of being a "good citizen. "
As we started living our belief system, however, we realized that we could be better citizens of the earth. Sure, we recycled and gardened and bought twisty light bulbs. We greatly decreased our carbon footprint by using our car much, much less, but we started realizing that supporting the Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO's) by eating mass produced meat was not the best thing for the environment or our health. We had no desire to be vegetarians, but we didn't want to support creatures having horrible "lives" just to provide us with hamburgers or bacon. Realistically, however, three teenagers go through A LOT of food, and I couldn't really afford to buy grass-fed, humanely raised beef, pork or chicken at Whole Foods. That's when the idea of buying a cow portion started to make sense.
Exactly how much of a cow did you buy? Did you need to buy a new freezer or make any other type of investment to accommodate your cow?
We realized that our small refrigerator/freezer would not suffice, so we invested in a small chest freezer for about $175. This fits neatly in our basement, and since we also garden, we can use it for surplus produce as well. The freezer is a long term investment and obviously won't have to be purchased again, so we feel this was money well spent. Our farmer kept us apprised of the timeline for "Mr. Cow" as we took to calling him so that all purchasers would be prepared. When the day came for pick up, we went to a local butcher who had butchered the cow, aged him slightly (for flavor), and flash froze and vacuum packed the meat.
The butcher also divided up the four quarters so that everyone got an approximately equal share of all the cuts. We ended up with about 175 pounds of beef, at $5.50 per pound. This means $5.50 for cuts like short ribs and shin meat, as well as for t-bones and eye of the round! We asked for no ground beef, as Darrol grinds it himself--he likes to know what's in it.
Who bought the other portions of your cow? How did you find enough people to go in on it?
We weren't sure we would be able to eat a quarter cow so asked some friends if they'd be interested in purchasing portion as well. I also "tweeted" about it on twitter and one of my followers got in on it as well! What a great way to meet new folks. Three other families all decided that they would be interested and we moved forward.
You had a "Meet the Meat" party after your beef was delivered. What did you serve to your guests?
We decided to have Porterhouse Steaks. Our meal also consisted of veggies from our garden, great local Jersey produce from the farm stand, and an awesome desert from my son and daughter-in-law’s bakery, The Sweet Life Bakery. We also served home-brewed beer and wine that Darrol had made.
How does your cowpooling beef hold up to beef you've had in the past? What's your opinion of it so far?
I had read on the internet how some people said grass fed meat was "gamy" or "tough" so I was prepared to be a bit of a grass-fed apologist, but I can tell you that these steaks were awesome... flavorful and tender. Honestly, they were the best steaks any of us had ever had. I know some won't believe that, but it's true. We toasted Mr. Cow and his life and had a wonderful dinner.
I know you're only two months into this, but do you think you'll cowpool again?
ABSOLUTELY! However, we will probably keep the entire quarter-cow next time, so if anyone else wants to cowpool with us, they'll have to think big. As a matter of fact, would you like to hear about the half a pig we bought? It's little pork, bacon and ham packages are nestled in the freezer right by Mr. Cow. We got him from the same butcher that prepped Mr. Cow. It turned out to be about $1/lb for everything from scrapple and bacon to hams and pork roasts! What a bargain and so good. And I found a great little farm in South Jersey that sells half-lambs! Maybe next year we'll lamb-pool. We still get free range chickens from the Collingswood Market, as our township won't let us keep chickens (darn). But now I feel our mission statement is aligned to our practices. We are closer to being happy, healthy, productive citizens of the earth.
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A cowpooling tale
What do you do when you buy a quarter of a cow? Invite your friends to ‘Meet the Meat’ of course.