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Vt. April 18, 2014 (AP)
LISA RATHKE Associated Press
A bunch of kids in a minivan are
solving twin challenges in northern Vermont: refugees struggling to find the
food of their homelands and farmers looking to offload unwanted livestock.
The half dozen kids — that is, baby
goats — that arrived last week at Pine Island Farm were the latest additions to
the Vermont Goat Collaborative, a project that brings together new Americans
hungry for goat meat with dairy goat farmers who have no need for young male
animals. Some dairy farmers who otherwise would discard bucklings at birth or
spend valuable time finding homes for them now can send them to Colchester,
where they will be raised and sold to refugees, some of whom have spent full
days traveling to Boston or New Hampshire for fresh goat, or have settled for
imported frozen meat.
When community organizer Karen
Freudenberger realized that the roughly 6,000 new Americans from southeast
Asia, Africa and elsewhere living in the Burlington area were buying what
amounted to 3,000 goats a year from Australia and New Zealand, she saw an
opportunity. Since some of them had been farmers raising goats in their native
countries, why couldn't they do it in Vermont, prized for its working landscape
and locally raised foods?
"People keep saying, are you
sure you can sell all those goats? We are sure we can sell all those
goats," said Freudenberger, who helped launch the project.
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 USDA 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, with Texas producing the most, followed by Tennessee.
Some of the refugees Freudenberger
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
"It's very helpful," he
said. "They are so excited."
"The whole project is really
designed around trying to meet this particular niche demand that this community
has ... in a way that meets the particular cultural and taste desires of their
communities," Freudenberger said.
The project is a collaboration
between the Vermont Land Trust, which is giving the farmers access to the farm
property on the Winooski River, and the Association of Africans Living in
Vermont, now called AALV. 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,
A grant of about $20,000 from Green
Mountain Coffee Roasters helped to get Dhaurali started last year with electric
fencing, feed and other supplies. Another Vermont Working Lands grant of more
than $10,000 helped create the custom slaughter facility. The project
subsidizes the farmer for the first year, but when they sell the goats in the
fall, 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.
"It's more than just the meat —
the nutritional side of it. It's also very cultural in terms of the way that
people are wanting to participate in the whole process," Freudenberger
And Dhaurali, who is from Bhutan and
spent 18 years as a refugee in Nepal, said many of the older members of
Vermont's Nepalese community don't care for the taste of chicken, beef or pork.
The Vermont Goat Collaborative could
grow to about 400 goats, with three families sharing the barn and pasture.
That's far from meeting the demand, but that's not the idea. 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.
"The idea is not to get our farm huge so that we can
send our goats all over the country, but it's to get a working a model that
then can be transferred and tweaked given people's particular situations to
make it work," Freudenberger said.