March 19, 2011


Yak by popular demand: A different kind of farm in Vermont is seeking to corner the locavore, healthier-meat market (David Filipov, March 19, 2011, Boston Globe)

Dolores is one of 40 yaks that belong to five farmers who brought the feisty bovids to the rolling glens of the Green Mountains. Their venture, Vermont Yak Company, aims to satisfy the growing appetite for exotic food that is locally raised, grass-fed, and free-roaming.

The farmers are part of a small but building movement of enthusiasts in the United States who value the yak for its lean meat — one-sixth the fat of grain-fed beef and 40 percent more protein.

Other exotic animals have caught on with niche audiences — bison burgers and ostrich jerky have their fans across the country — but none has gone so far as to replace the beef steer. The yak farmers do not expect to do that either — they know yak meat, with its sweet, slightly gamy taste, is not for everyone — but they figure they will attract the curious and a core market of locavores.

Yaks, which evolved in the Himalayas, make a certain amount of sense in Vermont, with its chilly climate and limited grazing land. They do not require warm barns and can thrive in fields where grass is sparse.

But ask herders what they like best about their yaks and they wax on about the individual personalities of animals that are curious like cats, spirited like ponies, and capable of far more mischief than one might expect from a ruminant cousin of the dairy cows that used to roam Vermont Yak’s 24 acres.

“Every day is different,’’ said Rob Williams, one of Vermont Yak Company’s founders. “Some days I call and they come. Some days they are like, ‘No, we’ll just stay here.’’’

The company supplies a stable of local eateries, grocery stores, and farmers’ markets with yak treats and is exploring direct sales to individual customers. The owners believe that their property, built on the former grazing land of a long-defunct dairy farm in the Mad River Valley, is the only working yak farm in New England. But they would like to be seen as pioneers rather than outliers in a state that they believe could be riding yak to the future.

“I would love to see Vermont become the New England go-to mecca of yak,’’ said Williams, a trim 43-year-old who also publishes an independent newspaper and teaches communications at Champlain College. “I would love to see a yak in every pot.’’

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Posted by at March 19, 2011 5:24 AM

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