Tuesday December 3, 2019
A package of frozen goat meat available at Midnimo Grocery & Halal Meat in St. Cloud on Friday, Nov. 8, 2019, was packaged in August in Australia. Most goat meat available in Central Minnesota is shipped from Australia or New Zealand and often more than six months old. THE ST. CLOUD TIMES VIA AP ZACH DWYER
ST. CLOUD, Minn. (AP) — Fresh goat is on the menu at Midnimo Restaurant in St. Cloud, an offshoot of Midnimo Grocery & Halal Meat that opened about a year and a half ago.
It’s the only place in St. Cloud that sells locally raised halal goat meat, according to Ahmed Abdi, a member of the Somali community who is advocating for more local goat farms with the help of the University of Minnesota Extension.
What’s available elsewhere is frozen meat processed in Australia or New Zealand.
But that meat is often more than six months old and is difficult to prepare. When boiling the meat, Abdi said, the water has to be dumped out at least twice and often has a strong smell.
“We shouldn’t have to get meat from across the world,” said Noor Yussuf, owner of Midnimo.
Yussuf works with a Somali farmer from Central Minnesota who raises goats. The fresh halal meat is popular; more than 90% of Yussuf’s goat sales are fresh meat, he said.
But that farmer is unique in his processing of halal goats, the St. Cloud Times reported.
“He’s at capacity. It’s not a large-scale sustainable model,” said Serdar Mamedov, an Extension educator.
Mamedov is working with Abdi and others to connect the local Somali community with goat producers in Central Minnesota.
25,000 Goats, 42 Million Turkeys
The demand for goat meat exists. The supply doesn’t — but it could.
For many Somalis, goat meat is a staple, not a specialty item.
“Access to goat meat is very important because… it’s part of the traditional cuisine,” Mamedov said.
There are about 15 East African grocery stores in St. Cloud and each store could likely sell 15 to 25 goats per week to meet demand, Mamedov estimated.
Using an average estimate of about 300 goats per week, the St. Cloud area could support selling about 15,600 goats per year, which is about two-thirds of the meat goats that are available in the entire state of Minnesota at any given time.
U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics show the number of goats raised in the state is just a sliver compared to Minnesota’s most prominent livestock or poultry product — turkeys.
About this time last year, there were 25,000 meat goats in Minnesota. Meanwhile, there were 2.3 million cattle, 14.2 million chickens and 42 million turkeys in the state.
Goats could provide a boon to local farmers similar to turkeys or chickens, which Minnesota exports across the country, Abdi said.
“This could be a big opportunity,” he said. “These new immigrants are the consumers, especially the Somali population.”
Why aren’t there more local goat farmers?
Many reasons, of course.
“Since most of the grocery stores are operated by Somali immigrants, the language barrier (exists) most of the time and because there might only be one person working in the store — or two — it prevents them from making connections or exploring other available opportunities,” Mamedov said.
Some of it also comes down to farmers being afraid to ask the “stupid questions” such as “What is halal?” and “How do I raise goats as halal?”
That’s why relationship-building is so important, Mamedov said.
Mamedov, Abdi and Abdiaziz Odiriye, executive director of Community Grassroots Solutions, started meeting with area farmers in the last few months to talk about the demand for halal goats — and what partnerships might look like.
“Our Somali community has never had the opportunity to connect with the local farmers,” Mamedov said. “We are trying to articulate and provide a better understanding for farmers.”
What is halal?
“The concept is very simple — all Muslims are required to live halal,” Mamedov said. “The population considers halal as clean, pure and healthy.”
The concept applies to every aspect of life such as food, work, clothing, finances and medicine. In regards to finances, for example, charging interest is not permissible, so Muslims often lease things instead of taking out loans.
With food, halal refers to the animals themselves, as well as how the animals are raised and slaughtered.
Halal animals include goats, poultry, camel and cows. Animals that are not halal are pigs, dogs, donkeys and predators, Abdi said.
Being raised halal generally means animals are fed with halal food, treated humanely and separated from animals that are not halal. Animals also should be slaughtered a certain way, generally fast with newly sharpened tools to cause as little pain as possible.
Mamedov said there is no universal list of requirements but quite simply, “halal starts on the farm and goes on to the plate.”
Some food is certified as halal, similar to how food can be certified as kosher.
“We trust the way they treat it is halal,” Odiriye said, “even when it’s coming from across the world.”
Locally, Somali grocery store owners wouldn’t necessarily require halal certification as long as there is an understanding with the farmer that the meat is raised and slaughtered halal, Mamedov said.
The partnership with local grocery stores would also provide goat farmers a more reliable way to sell livestock as opposed to taking goats to auction.
Is a halal meat-processing plant on the horizon?
Mamedov and his partners in the Somali community are also working to garner interest from investors in hopes of eventually creating a halal meat processing plant.
“Around this area, we have quite a few meat-processing plants but none of them exclusively do halal,” he said. “Since the Muslim population has increased, the market is different. It used to be that many meat processors didn’t see this as a feasible way of doing it. But now? Yes. It presents a tremendous business opportunity.”
Mamedov admits the project will require a lot of investment in addition to human capital, but emphasized it will be beneficial to farmers, consumers and immigrants in general.
“When we’re talking about immigrants, we’re talking about a low-income population so creating a food environment that provides access to fresh produce and cultural food is our goal,” he said.
“And the meat processing plant will also be contributing to the local economy because it will also provide employment opportunities for the low-income population, as well.”
Mamedov’s message to established farmers, businesses and investors is simple: “Halal is not an obstacle. It’s an opportunity.”