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New Americans Turn to Goats to Address Food Demand

09:14AM Apr 21, 2014

An increasing ethnic population has also added to the demand for goat meat.
By: Lisa Rathke, Associated Press

When Karen Freudenberger realized that the roughly 6,000 new Americans from Southeast Asia, Africa and elsewhere living in her area were buying what amounted to 3,000 goats a year from Australia and New Zealand, she saw an opportunity.

Now the Vermont Goat Collaborative brings together new Americans hungry for the food of their homelands with dairy goat farmers who have no need for the young male animals.

Some dairy farmers who otherwise would discard the goats at birth can send them to a farm where they will be raised and sold to refugees, some of whom have spent full days traveling to Boston for fresh goat or have settled for imported frozen meat.

Now in its second year, the collaborative includes two families from Bhutan and Rwanda who are raising about 200 baby goats that will be slaughtered on site and sold in the fall.

While there are no federal statistics on goat meat consumption, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says demand for it is increasing, driven in part by a growth in ethnic populations. The U.S. had 2.3 million head of meat goats in January 2013, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service.

Some of the refugees Freudenberger, a community organizer, has worked with had trouble communicating with farmers when trying to buy fresh goat meat, while others were questioned by authorities for slaughtering an animal by the side of the road or for having a goat in a car.

They are looking forward to being able to select, buy and slaughter their goats in a matter of hours instead of making the long, expensive trip to Boston, said goat farmer Chuda Dhaurali, who is from Bhutan and spent 18 years as a refugee in Nepal.

"It's very helpful," he said. "They are so excited."

The project is a collaboration between the Vermont Land Trust, which is giving the farmers access to the farm property, and the Association of Africans Living in Vermont. The idea is that the land will be transferred to a cooperative entity representing the new American population and that group will take over the costs of the land — such as the insurance and taxes, Freudenberger said.

The project subsidizes the farmer for the first year, but when they sell the goats, it allows them to finance future years.

Last year the project sold about 100 goats to families from more than 15 nationalities. Often, whole families including grandparents visit the farm to pick out the goat. Goat buyers can slaughter the animals on site the way they are accustomed to.

Dhaurali said many of the older members of Vermont's Nepalese community don't care for the taste of chicken, beef or pork.

The project is designed to be a model that could be transferred to other farms and states. It already has sparked interest in Maine, New Hampshire and North Carolina.