“I grew up on an Angus cattle ranch in the Nebraska Sandhills, and loved every minute of it,” says Honest Beef Co. founder Hannah Raudsepp. “I loved the work, the open spaces, the small schools, the people: all of it. Beef was included in at least one meal throughout the day, and I took for granted that I understood how it ended up on my plate.”
However, after Raudsepp graduated from Creighton University and moved to Boston, she began to notice how many East Coasters felt detached from where their food was produced and who it was produced by: “There was an underlying feeling of distrust that I detected especially around beef, how it’s raised, its nutrition, and from where it comes.” Raudsepp also noticed a disconnect between ranchers and farmers and the people their food nourishes, since for many food manufacturers, once the animal leaves the operation, they just don’t know where the product goes.
So, the Nebraskan founded Honest Beef Co. to address this lack of transparency on both ends of the value chain. The company follows an increasingly popular “crowdsourcing” model, in which after an animal has been produced and is ready for sale, customers buy specific cuts online. Once a percentage of the cow has been purchased, the cow will be “tipped,” and the transaction moved forward.
A Seattle company called Crowd Cow, run by entrepreneurs Joe Heitzeberg and Ethan Lowry, launched their similar startup in 2015, aiming to offer high-quality Washington beef from small ranches for a reasonable price. “People want to know where their meat comes from and how it’s raised and they want to explore it like wine,” Heitzeberg said to the Seattle Met. “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.”
Another aspect of the crowdsourced model addresses challenges that traditional agriculture supply chains often face, including food safety. “Because we are able to cut out the majority of the conventional supply chain for beef, like the big feedlot, slaughterhouse, distributor, and the retailer, we are able to offer beef at your doorstep with a fraction of the touch points, thus lowering the risk of disease and contamination,” Raudsepp explains. Additionally, transparency is key, meaning that customers know precisely where their meat will be coming from. So, to own part of a pasture-raised Black Angus, all customers need to do is select their share online.
Ways of purchasing and manufacturing meat, such as crowdsourcing, share an interesting correspondence with the message given by Deanna Karmazin, an ag literacy consultant from Lincoln. She spoke at the 15th Annual Farmers & Ranchers College Cow/Calf College Partners Beef Seminar near Hastings. According to Karmazin, Nebraska ag producers must learn to tell their story and dispel the myths about food production that can contribute to a huge downswing in food production, one of Nebraska’s major industries. The Hastings Tribune notes, “According to a survey conducted by the U.S. Farm and Ranch Coalition, 72 percent of today’s consumers know nothing or very little about farming or ranching. Still, 69 percent think about food production at least somewhat often, and 70 percent say their purchase decisions are affected by how food is raised.”
Therefore, the more Nebraska food producers can tell their story, the better. While it’s not likely that all food production will shift to a crowdfunded model, it’s certainly one way to tell a story and increase transparency for consumers who want to literally see the ranch their beef comes from. For Nebraskans, and for the rest of the country, manufacturing any type of food can benefit from telling a story, explaining the process, and lifting up the curtain on how manufacturing food products actually works.