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Future beef. Photo via Crowd Cow's blog. 

A local company called Crowd Cow is applying the crowdsourcing funding principle to buying sustainably raised beef from small Washington ranches.

The company operates by purchasing a head of cattle directly from a rancher in Washington. Customers pledge to buy specific cuts online; once 67 percent of the beef is claimed, the cow is "tipped," and the transaction moves forward.

Crowd Cow started with friends and entrepreneurs Joe Heitzeberg and Ethan Lowry pitching start-up ideas to each other. Their conversation turned to people they knew who had bought a whole cow or part of a cow from a local ranch. They didn't have the means to store such a large amount of beef, but they realized—if they could get 50 or so people to contribute to the purchase of the whole cow, they could offer high-quality meat at a reasonable price.

Both had past experience using Kickstarter, and applied that model to Crowd Cow, which saw its first cow tip in mid June. Orders came pouring in from friends in Washington to far-flung carnivores in Chicago, New York, and Florida. These days Crowd Cow only ships to towns within Washington and Oregon, but its founders hope to expand that reach. 

"People want to know where their meat comes from and how it's raised and they want to explore it like wine," Heitzeberg said. "There's genetics, how it's raised, all these aspects. Beef is a complex thing, it's the centerpiece of the meal and people want to buy local."

Cows are raised sustainably on Washington ranches. For example, a pure 100 percent grass-fed wagyu beef from Sweet Grass Farm on Lopez Island that's a rarity for many as it is almost impossible to find at local markets. 

The Crowd Cow website (very easy to use, even on a phone or tablet) tracks the cow tips and how many à la carte cuts are available, while also estimating a delivery time once the cow has been purchased. If this way of buying a staple dietary item becomes your new thing, then you can request to be first in line next time a tipping goes down. 

Beef goes through a dry aged process then vacuumed sealed ready for the grill (or immersion circulator). Typically orders are shipped the following week with next day delivery so freshness and quality isn't a concern. Check the website for more information. 

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