Camel farms in Colo.? Greeley’s Global Refugee Center working for it
August 5, 2013
Colette West and Asad Abdi have devoted their careers to helping an influx of African refugees in Greeley, Colo., simply function in their new community, but now they're ready to watch the displaced people thrive here by creating a camel farm.
For about a year-and-a-half, West and Abdi, co-directors at the local Global Refugee Center in Greeley, have been crusading to bring camels to northern Colorado — an effort that's included writing letters to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and President Barack Obama, and there's still a long way to go.
For Africans raised in their native countries on camel's milk, the milk from a cow causes stomach discomfort after they arrive in the U.S. and drink it.
Beyond wanting to produce camel's milk for consumption, West and Abdi said starting a local camel farm could be a job creator and source of income for refugees in Greeley, who come from countries saturated in violence and turmoil, and, in some cases, arrive with no family and little or no money, often to take jobs at area meatpacking facilities that others don't want.
The potential camel farm — already being called "Camelot," a name West and Abdi can't say aloud without cracking a bit of a smile — could produce milk for making and selling butter, ice cream, soaps and other items.
West and Abdi are in discussions with a small, local slaughter company, to work with "Camelot" in producing and selling camel meat.
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The camel farm could also be a money-maker as a tourist attraction, they said.
"I know the community in some ways views the refugees as a burden, but they can be independent, and function and thrive here," West said. "We want to give them the opportunity to do that."
If put in place, the camel farm would be a rarity in Colorado.
Dr. Rob Callan, head of large animal services at the Colorado State University Veterinary Teaching Hospital, said he's unaware of any sizeable camel farms in the state.
With an estimated 2,500 African refugees in Greeley, the local Global Refugee Center, housed in a portion of the local Cameron Elementary School, offers GED and citizenship programs, and teaches the basics of English.
Now, West and Abdi are trying to take their assistance for displaced Africans to another level.
In their uphill climb to create the camel farm in Weld County, at least a couple hurdles are now out of the way.
Last year, Weld County commissioners approved a change in an ordinance that allows camels to be raised as livestock, rather than be kept solely as exotic animals.
And thanks to a local land owner, Michael Olearnick, the Global Refugee Center has a location picked out for the farm, just northeast of Greeley.
Abdi, who came to America 12 years ago from Kenya and has been in Greeley for the past five years, and West are the first to admit, though, there's still a long way to go before "Camelot" comes to fruition.
There are regulations in the U.S. against selling camel's milk for consumption. West and Abdi have been conversing with federal officials about that.
Another issue is the price of camels.
More and more, camel's milk is being used in medicine — particularly to treat symptoms of autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Those uses have driven up the price of the animals.
West and Abdi said camels in the U.S. range from about $8,000-$16,000 each.
Camels from Africa are much cheaper but, because of concerns regarding foot-and-mouth disease, camels from that continent aren't allowed in the U.S.
More challenges for Global refugee center
West and Abdi are taking on their camel endeavor at a time when they're uncertain where the center will even be operating in the near future.
Since 2010, Greeley-Evans School District 6 has leased a chunk of its Cameron Elementary School to Christ Community Church, which allows the Global Refugee Center to operate at that location.
However, that lease expires on July 31, and now District 6 needs the space for its own education programs.
West and Abdi said District 6 has been working with Christ Community Church and the Global Refugee Center to find a new home within the district, but don't have a space large enough.
So, they're still looking for a new home at this point.
Despite the abundance of uncertainty, West and Abdi continue their crusade to help camels take their place among agriculture in Weld County, which ranks No. 3 in the nation for its value of all livestock and their products, according to the most recent U.S. Census of Agriculture.
"We're not sure how long this will take," West said of the farm. "Money's an issue. There are federal regulations that stand in the way. We're not sure where we'll be in the near future. But we'll keep going on this. It's too important." ❖