By: Natalie Lovelace, UVM’s Real Food Calculator Intern
In mid-November, Caylin McKee, UVM Dining Sustainability Manager, Annie Rowell, Sodexo’s Vermont First Coordinator, Jim Rogers, UVM Dining Retail Operations Director, and I took a trip to Vermont Chevon in Danville, Vermont. Vermont Chevon, which was founded by Shirley Richardson and Jan Westervelt in 2011, is revolutionizing the goat meat industry in Vermont!
As we toured the pen housing the seven adult male goats, called bucks, all of which were named, Shirley explained how she got into the goat industry. Shirley was previously a high school principal and started raising a show heard of cashmere goats when she retired in 2004. “Sheep aren’t smart enough and I was not going to do cows,” she said, with a tone that assumed we all obviously knew why she wouldn’t want to work with cows. Once she started to sell the meat from her wool goats, she learned about the unsustainable goat meat industry in the US. 97% of the almost 35 million pounds of goat meat consumed in our country in 2011was imported from Australia1, where goats are considered one of their major pest species2 and are hunted similarly to deer in the US. Meanwhile, there are many farms in Vermont that have a surplus of goats because they are only being raised for their milk, meaning there is little use for kids and bucks. Shirley connected the dots, “my mind said ‘opportunity!’”
Vermont Chevon currently acts as a finishing farm for cull goats that Shirley buys directly from area farmers. She makes sure her price is competitive with the prices farmers could get at auction, which she notes are high because of strong demand from international populations that are accustom to eating goat. A 120 pound goat will sell for more than a 1,000 pound cow at auction. Shirley is also experimenting with breeding meat and dairy goats, which she has found results in a faster growing and overall larger goat.
In addition to making goat meat more available in Vermont, Shirley also wants to transform consumer qualms about eating goat, which is actually the most widely consumed meat in the world. Although it is the most nutritious meat, with 40% less saturated fat than chicken and half as much fat as beef3, it is not commonly served in the US. In addition, Shirley explains that it is more sustainable to eat goats who have served multiple functions in their lifetime. She currently sells her goat meat to a variety of restaurants and her goats have even been featured in some of UVM’s dining halls. She sells around 200 goats a year, but is hoping to grow this number by working with other farmers to raise goats on their farm. Raising goats not only diversifies farms, but also has the potential to bring additional value-added products to their market.
In a state with a large refugee population, whose main meat source is goat, it is shocking that goat meat is not more widely available in Vermont. Vermont Chevon is not the only organization working to make this meat more accessible. Pine Island Community Farm in Colchester is also raising goats for meat, which individuals can then purchase and slaughter onsite. As consumers, it’s important to keep in mind that purchasing goat meat raised in Vermont is not only supporting local meat, but also helping to transform the industry as a whole into one that is more sustainable. Shirley’s business fits well with Sodexo’s Vermont First commitment to increase local purchasing across Sodexo accounts throughout the state. As UVM’s international population increases, UVM Dining is interested in sourcing more goat so that those students can have a familiar protein on their plate.