Ryan Fee’s intention to assist a few homesick Somali friends has grown into a nationwide camel milk company.
Camel Culture milk comes from a dairy in southwest Missouri and may be found on the shelves of roughly ten halal merchants in Kansas City’s historic Northeast area, including Baraka Halal Market and Tawakal Halal Store.
Fee and his wife, Lauren, were living in Seattle at the time and assisting with a refugee resettlement program.
“We really got to know a lot of these Somali families and learnt a lot about their culture and lives back home,” he added. “They’d tell me about how much they missed [it].” And one of the things they missed the most — something we heard from every Somali family we met — was “camels and camel’s milk.”
This made Fee and his wife consider what they would miss if they were to go to Somalia or somewhere.
“We simply got the impression that when many immigrants and refugees arrive to the United States, the United States does not tend to them in the same way that many other nations around the globe cater to Westerners,” he stated. “You see McDonald’s and KFC and Coca-Cola items and other extremely Western stuff all across the planet.” So I guess we just got this feeling of, ‘Man, these guys must be missing a sense of home being here.’
“Everything seems to be strange. They have no idea where they are, and nothing feels or tastes familiar to them.'”
Fee began researching and networking until she discovered a camel dairy in Colorado that would ship to Seattle. He wanted to provide some comfort to his Somali neighbours, so he approached a Somali company owner whether he’d be interested in selling it at his store, which also sells other East African things.
“‘Well, I won’t believe it until I see it, until I really see the camel’s milk and taste it to make sure it’s genuine,'” he says. Fee remembered the exchange.
So he ordered some from Colorado for a taste test.
“They were overjoyed,” he continued. “Everyone at the shop couldn’t believe there was camel’s milk there.”
According to Fee, the milk was so popular that it sold out in less than 48 hours after they filled the stores. As a result, they continued purchasing more.
“After about three months of doing that, we’re like, ‘Well, it seems we’re getting traction,'” he said. “‘In Seattle, we’re in three or four Somali-owned stores and eateries. We may as well join an LLC and start a company, even if it’s only a hobby, to bless our Somali neighbours. So, in 2016, we established a camel milk firm.”
He claimed he was able to carve out time to sell milk in the Seattle neighbourhood while performing market research for a commercial real estate business, and they finally stocked the shelves of almost every Somali-owned store and restaurant.
Do you have camel’s milk?
Fee began talking about expanding into additional locations with a strong Somali refugee population in the end of 2016.
“We knew there were roughly 500,000 Somalis in the United States,” he stated. “So we started interacting with other communities around the nation, as well as cities in the Midwest like Kansas City, Minneapolis, and Sioux Falls.”
They began exporting to other Somali-owned halal stores in these towns, and in 2018, Fee and his family chose to relocate to Colorado to be closer to the camel dairy farm with which they were collaborating at the time, as well as the communities they were servicing.
“Seattle was one of the few Somali communities in North America,” he said. “Most of them resembled Colorado and the east.”
But, he claims, they outgrew the Colorado property the same year they relocated. Fee discovered Hump Back Dairy near Miller, Missouri. The farm is operated by an Amish-Mennonite community and is roughly located between Joplin and Springfield.
“It’s really the biggest camel dairy in the United States,” he said. “So we started buying milk from them and exporting it throughout the nation to these various Somali-owned halal marketplaces.” Through 2019 and into 2020, our firm started to develop much more.”
From camel farm to table
Fee said there are more than 200 dromedary camels – animals with one hump — on his Miller farm, and his Camel Culture firm owns roughly 20 of them.
“We wanted to invest in camels and, eventually, in the farm that we’re working with,” he said. “Just to be fully invested in this farm and what they’re doing, but it also provided a bit of a price discount for us moving ahead.”
He said he attempts to visit the farm — where they have just erected a new facility — and speak with the owner and his employees around twice a year.
“It’s simply a pretty great spot to go and visit,” he remarked. “Seeing lush green pastures with rolling hills like in southwest Missouri is just stunning.” Then there are these wild, massive beasts that are free to wander. It’s lovely, and our kids adore it.”
He said that milking a camel is not the same as milking a cow on the farm. First and foremost, as Fee said, you are not required to sit. Second, the calf must be present for the camel to release her milk, and there is only a little window of opportunity.
“The milk is released for around 90 seconds,” he stated. “You have 90 seconds to catch the milk before it effectively stops flowing from the camel.” As a result, it must happen swiftly. However, another aspect is that the calf is constantly with the mother. So the calf may have milk all day, and then during the 90-second time when we obtain milk from the mom, the calf is in the stall with her or his mother.”
That is one of the reasons camel milk is more costly than cow milk, he said. Three pints of Grade A milk cost $49.50, or $16.50 each pint, on Camel Culture’s website, or six litres are $156, or $26 per litre.
“You’re feeding two mouths rather than one.” “As opposed to a cow,” he said. “Much like cow’s milk, the mother may simply deliver all of the milk to the dairy.” You are not required to have a calf with the cow.”
Furthermore, camels generate much less milk than cows.
“A camel will give you approximately six to eight litres per day, but a cow would give you about eight to ten gallons,” he continued.
‘Superfood for the desert’
When Fee first began selling camel’s milk, he immediately discovered that there were more clients than simply those who missed their country.
According to Fee, camel milk contains less lactose and casein (making it simpler to digest), less saturated fat, and 10 times more iron and five times more vitamin C than cow’s milk. It also contains a lot of protein, probiotics, and other vitamins and minerals. According to him, it is often likened to nutrient-rich breastmilk across the world.
“It’s the next best thing to human milk,” he adds. “It has remarkable health advantages.” It’s basically a natural superfood in general.”
According to the Camel Culture website, the milk is flash pasteurized to make it safe to consume while still preserving the minerals.
He said that even in the middle of the epidemic, 2021 was the company’s finest year ever.
“I believe people started to grasp the health advantages of camel’s milk and realized how maybe this product, maybe this milk, may protect me from everything going on in the world,” he added. “It was extremely interesting to observe how people were really grabbing onto the concept that things from this part of the globe might genuinely give you life.” Because products that originate from areas like Somalia or the Middle East have such a terrible connotation in the minds of Americans. So to really appreciate these people, their culture, and their goods was a tremendous highlight.”
It’s more than simply milk.
Fee wasn’t sure how the epidemic would influence the business at first, so the firm developed a few more products to reach out to other refugees and immigrants from locations other than Somalia, such as Morocco, Yemen, and Syria.
“All of these regions within camel culture — think North Africa, the Horn of Africa, or the Middle East — where people are fleeing, whether they’re under persecution or there’s starvation, drought, or conflict happening on in their homeland, when they come to America where things are strange,” he continued. “So we asked ourselves, ‘How can we continue to deliver things and be a gift to people in other areas than Somali?'”
As a result, by the end of 2020, the firm changed to Camel Culture to represent its expansion beyond milk. Since then, it has been offering camel milk powder from the UAE, date sugar from Tunisia, and camel milk soap from Oman.
According to Fee, the milk component of the company has been entirely self-funded, but Camel Culture has started to seek investors as it extends its product range (though monsoons in northern Australia have delayed things a bit).
“All of our money and investments are now on hold,” he stated. “However, as far as the milk is concerned, we have bootstrapped it from the start.” We bought the first box, sold it, and then used the proceeds to buy the following box. We’re now sending 150 boxes every week. So it’s been exciting to see it develop.”