Vermont farmers who raise goats for milk have no use for the male babies their animals produce, and often ended up euthanizing them. Meanwhile, immigrants to Vermont from Africa and Southeast Asia were importing thousands of goats a year from Australia and New Zealand to use in preparing familiar dishes from their home countries. These two facts made a light bulb go off in the head of Karen Freudenberger, who volunteers with refugee communities and conservation groups.
One day when she was mentoring a Somali family, Freudenberger noticed that an older man named Mohamed seemed depressed. She asked him if he’d ever kept animals, and he immediately began telling her about his days raising goats, camels, and cows in his home country. “His eyes just lit up, and he was a different person. It hit me harder than any day since…what a hugely important piece of people’s lives is missing when they come here,” she told Kathryn Flagg of Seven Days.
Working with two immigrant goat farmers from Bhutan, Freudenberger formed the Vermont Goat Collaborative in Colchester, Vermont two years ago. She contacted goat dairy farmers, many of whom were glad to supply the project with kids. The farmers raise the baby goats until they are big enough to eat, and then immigrant families come to the farm to pick out the animals they want to buy, which is a lot more convenient than the trek to Boston many Vermont immigrants were making to find goat meat. Last year they sold 100 goats to immigrants from 15 different countries.
Several groups have come together to support the project, including the Vermont Land Trust, which supplied the farmland that was too flood-prone for crops but perfect for grazing, the Association of Africans Living in Vermont, and Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, which gave the collaborative a $20,000 grant to pay for fencing and feed.
“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 told Lisa Rathke of the Portland Press Herald. Meanwhile, it’s making the farming dreams of some new Americans come true. “I never thought, when I lived in Nepal, that I could be a farmer in America,” Chuda Dhaurali, one of the goat farmers involved in the project told Flagg.