Down East 2013 ©
The Chinese got it wrong. 2008 isn't the Year of the Rat. In Maine, it's the Year of the Goat. Lately it seems that goats - as well as their cheese, milk, and even meat (chevon) - are everywhere.
Margaret Hathaway, author of The Year of the Goat, is part of a growing contingent of goat people in the Pine Tree state. Transplants from Brooklyn, New York, she and her husband, Karl Schatz, settled in Gray after a year of traveling across the country to learn about goat farming, a journey she recounts in her book. "Ultimately, we chose goats because we love goat cheese," Hathaway admits. On top of their gastronomic inclination, they had a few other reasons swaying them toward bucks, does, and kids (the four-legged kind). "The more research we did, the more we learned about goats' versatility, their low impact on the environment, and the historical resonance of goats," Hathaway explains. "We liked that we felt a sense of historical weight behind the role of goat farmers."
On their cross-country journey Hathaway and Schatz met hundreds of fellow goat admirers. Inspired by what they saw, the couple knew they wanted to farm goats, they just had to figure out where. Maine, as Hathaway explains, has a lot to offer the budding goat farmer besides its plentiful browse and pastures (goats much prefer the former). "One thing that was nice was the cheese community was certainly growing and established," Hathaway adds, "but it wasn't like Vermont with a million people making cheese. There seemed to be room for more. The meat industry, in part because of the Somali community, has really taken off, too. The fact that there is a community here that wants goat meat made it feel like we could really make a business work."
And the business of goat meat is burgeoning throughout the state. Chevon remains relatively new to Maine, but outside the United States, goat is the number one consumed red meat. And it's good for you, too. Reminiscent of venison, goat boasts remarkably low fat and cholesterol contents.
Leading the charge for the goats is Thyme for Goat, a recently formed conglomeration of five Maine farms producing humanely raised meat. Their slogan, "The Other Red Meat from Maine Family Farms," though humorous, also indicates their challenge of popularizing a new product. "For more than twenty years people have really identified with goat cheese, yogurt, and milk," says Marge Kilkelly, owner of Dragonfly Cove Farm in Dresden and a former state senator for Lincoln County. "This is kind of an extension of that. . . . You can't have a dairy business without excess animals. What we've found is that we offer a very humane approach to those animals."
Thyme for Goat's emergence proves that to some Mainers goat meat is not so exotic. "Locavores," of course, appreciate the local aspect of Thyme for Goat's products, and there is already an established market for the meat among many ethnic groups in Maine. "Not only the Somali and Muslim population, but the Portuguese and Italian cultures, too," Kilkelly notes.
Both Kilkelly and Hathaway predict goat farming is the way of the future. "I think people fear the danger that it will be like ostrich - a fad for a year or two," Hathaway suggests. "But with goats, they are such a sustainable livestock and useful in so many other ways. People liken the artisanal cheese movement in the United States to where wine was twenty years ago . . . and goat people are a big part of that. I think people will continue to develop a taste for goat cheese and for goat meat."
Given goat's legendary appetite for tin cans, Kilkelly admits that many Mainers are hesitant to try goat meat. "When we have our booth [at a fair], so many people come up and say `oh, you make goat cheese.' We are the next iteration, and we say, `You know, if you like goat cheese, try this!' "