Crowd Cow works directly with ranchers across the US, cutting out the middleman and giving farmers an alternative to selling calves to factory farms
If crowdsourcing makes you think of fundraising campaigns for smartwatches and wine coolers rather than sustainable food, youre not alone. But a new Seattle-based startup called Crowd Cow is hoping to change that.
Crowd Cow works like most crowdfunding campaigns. Every few days, the company hosts an event on its website featuring cows from one of the seven beef ranchers it works with on the west coast. There are photos and videos of the ranch itself, to give people a better understanding of the farmers and the cows on the ranch. Customers can then select cuts of beef they wish to buy from the ranch. Once enough beef has been purchased, the cow tips and customers become steakholders in the cow. Steakholders then receive their beef (frozen in dry ice) in as little as a few days. If the cow doesnt tip, there is no charge. But most Crowd Cow cows tip within one or two days.
Crowd Cow, which started taking orders in mid-2015, is part of a growing movement to promote sustainable meat production. The startup creates a market for more grass-fed beef, which keeps more cows grazing on pastures and gives farmers a more sustainable alternative to raising calves to sell to factory farms.
More and more people are waking up to the fact that factory farming is cruel to animals, detrimental to the health of humans, and unsustainable for the planet, said Brian Kateman, a professor at the Earth Institute at Columbia University. Thats why there is a growing demand for alternatives to conventionally produced animal products. This trend is expected to continue, particularly among younger demographics who are especially motivated to make food choices that are in line with their values.
As long as there is a growing or at least steady consumer base interested in local and grass-fed beef, Crowd Cow has the opportunity to serve that market niche, in turn creating a steadier market outlet for local farmers, said Richard VanVranken, a professor of agriculture and resource management at Rutgers University. Anything that allows farmers to increase prices received, reduce costs of production or in this case, marketing, and to plan for future production with a more stable and secure market is a good thing.
The majority of Americans buy their beef at grocery stores, where most of it hails from factory farms operated by large agricultural corporations. Conventional beef sales continue to dominate the fresh-beef market, with grass-fed beef accounting for only 1.4% of $18bn in sales in the United States in 2015, according to a recent Nielsen study. That said, the market for grass-fed beef is growing dramatically. In 2015, grass-fed beef sales increased by almost 40%, compared to a 6.5% increase for conventional beef.
The demand for grass-fed beef is driven by two factors, said VanVranken. One is the promotion of the general feeling that grass-fed beef is somehow tastier. The other is the assumption that grass-fed beef is somehow more humane and/or has less impact on the environment.
As demand for grass-fed beef grows, the meat industry is shifting to meet a new market. Many farmers now offer online ordering, while delivery services such as Amazon Fresh allow customers to place orders for grass-fed meat. But usually, these services are confined to small delivery areas.
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