The belted Galloway cattle grazing at Weir River Farm on top of Turkey Hill in Hingham look like a cross between panda bears and Oreo cookies, with broad white bands across their black bellies.
Come November, some of the animals will be slaughtered for steaks, other savory cuts, and hamburger, and sold in 7-pound packages to people with the foresight to buy shares of the farm’s output through a meat Community Supported Agriculture, or CSA, program.
Such programs allow farmers to get their money upfront with guaranteed sales and consumers to get a guaranteed allotment of the freshest farm fare.
The arrangement is a growing trend in Massachusetts, which counts 7,755 farms and ranks sixth in the nation for the number of farms with CSAs with 431 — a 95 percent increase since 2007, according to the state Department of Agricultural Resources.
And while most of the 431 use CSAs to sell produce — think bushels of zucchini, tomatoes, and chard — some apply the approach to sell protein from their livestock. Choices range from beef, pork, and chicken to lamb and goat.
Other farms sell shares of eggs, honey, and even mushrooms.
There’s also a CSA for fish out of Gloucester — Cape Ann Fresh Catch — which was started in conjunction with the Gloucester Fisherman’s Wives Association in 2008 and has about 400 people signed up for the current season.
“The model works,” said Dave Dumaresq, who runs Farmer Dave’s in Dracut and uses CSAs to sell his vegetables, fruit, and beef, and also partners with a group in New Hampshire to offer fresh fish.
Freedom Food Farm in Raynham is working toward what farmer Marie Kaziunas calls a “full diet” CSA. Members can buy shares for the usual vegetables — and the unusual prepared ones such as kimchi, sauerkraut, hot sauce, and pickles. Year-round shares also are available for eggs and meat from the cows, sheep, goats, pigs, and fowl raised on the 88-acre farm’s pastures.
“Our members know exactly where and how their eggs and meat were raised,” Kaziunas said. “They really trust our farming practices to be healthy for the animals and, as a result, nutrient-dense for people.”
Members choose what they want weekly from the available items — paying $70 for the eight-week fall egg share of a dozen eggs a week, for example, and $280 for the meat. A typical weekly meat share consists of 3 pounds of pork or beef, three chickens, and 2 pounds of lamb or goat.
And while the conventional ground beef, steaks, ribs, chops, and sausage are always available, the farm also offers more exotic fare.
“We always use the whole animal,” Kaziunas said. “So many members get excited that they can get unusual cuts like chicken feet, beef tongue, liver, bones, jowl bacon, leg of lamb, and whole heritage roosters and hens if they want.”
Donna Marshall of Cape Ann Fresh Catch takes a similar approach with her CSA shareholders, providing a wide variety of often-unfamiliar seafood.
Recent species included dabs (types of flatfish), red fish, yellow tail, and king whiting, along with the better-known sole, haddock, and swordfish. She also provides recipes for each type of fish, which members can get either whole or filleted.
“I think that people should really try to buy local fish and support the local fish economy, and not to be afraid to try something new,” she said. “I’m very proud of our shareholders. They’re willing to say I don’t know what I’m getting, but I’ll give it a shot. And once people try a king whiting, for example, they’re hooked.”
Marshall gets her fish from about a dozen Gloucester fishing boats, and every CSA package includes a note with the name of the boat that caught the contents.
Two years ago, she expanded into making prepared seafood and then, last January, opened a retail store. But her CSA program remains an integral part of the business, she said.
“We’re still standing, which is remarkable because I’ve watched people come and go,” she said. “It’s not an easy endeavor, not for the faint-hearted.”
Andrew Rogers, a first-generation farmer who runs Clark Farm in Carlisle, said he realized quickly that CSAs helped alleviate the financial stress of paying for crops before you knew whether they would thrive or sell. The farm sells shares of vegetables, flowers, meat, eggs, and mushrooms, which come from Fat Moon Farm in Westford.
“It allows for a lot more budgeting,” Rogers said.
Weir River Farm and several other farms owned by the Trustees conservation group are expanding their meat CSA program this fall, hoping to get 125 members instead of the 50 who signed up with the Trustees last winter, according to the organization’s livestock manager, Jesse Robertson-DuBois.
Robertson-DuBois, a former vegetarian, said the Trustees added lamb to the choices of beef, pork, and chicken “to diversify the culinary experience for all of our members, as an alternative to pork for those who prefer not to eat it, and because sheep and lambs like to graze different vegetation than cattle, giving us more pasture management options in caring for Trustees farm landscapes.”
In addition to Weir River Farm, the Trustees’ animals also come from Appleton Farms in Hamilton and Ipswich, Chestnut Hill Farm in Southborough, Moose Hill Farm in Sharon, and Powisset Farm in Dover.Johanna Seltz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.