Minnesota's camel milk black market

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Via 4Cheungs on Flickr
It felt like a drug deal.

"Stay in the car. I'll be right back." We were sitting in the back of a limousine, our fingers crossed that this would be our last stop. It had been three days, and we hadn't seen a trace of the elusive substance. "Turn the music up. What CD is he playing?" We nodded our heads to calm our nerves. Ten minutes later, the limo driver waltzed out of the restaurant, grinning and sipping from a styrofoam cup. He handed us a cardboard carrier with four more cups inside.

"It's fresh," he said. "From Columbus, Ohio."

After days of searching, too many dead ends to count, and hours in the back of a stranger's limousine, raw camel milk was finally ours.

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Plate or Pass: Camel meat

It started innocently enough. While researching camel meat, we stumbled upon a Star Tribune article from 2009 about the possibility of camel milk coming to Minnesota within a year, a development that would benefit Minnesota's Somali population. So, five years later, where was it? We called Dr. Millie Hinkle, the founder of Camel Milk U.S.A. and the driving force behind the legalization of camel milk, to find out where all the camel milk vendors were.

"They're mostly, honestly, undercover," she said.

Without dairies pasteurizing the milk, vendors aren't allowed to legally sell camel milk. Still, this staple of many Somali diets is available here in the Twin Cities -- if you know where to look for it.

We were determined to find this particular strain of milk, so coveted that a black market has formed around it. On our way to the Mall of Somalia, we stopped at a Halal market on Lake Street.

"Do you have camel milk?" we asked. The man behind the counter laughed. "Only cow's milk," he said. As we walked towards the door, he called out, "It's illegal, you know!"

At the mall, we asked a cook at a small cafe toward the back of the building if he knew where we could find the milk. He pointed us toward the coffee shop near a front entrance. "If it's not there, try Lake and 13th," he said. We asked the man at the front counter of the coffee shop if he had seen any. The customers standing in line looked startled. "Camel milk? No, not here. Try there," he said, pointing to a halal meat market across from his shop. It wasn't there either.

Defeated, we got back in the car and headed for Lake and 13th. We asked the men behind the butcher counter. They said to ask the man up front. We asked the man up front. He darted his eyes. "No we don't have it. We used to have it, but not anymore." He walked us to a shelf lined with dozens of empty plastic containers. "These are the bottles it came in," he said. "The milk went bad."

Before setting out for our second search attempt, we emailed Hinkle asking if our struggles were to be expected. "You're not imagining things," she said. "They are selling it undercover. It is black market, because it's illegal to sell the milk raw."

By day three of our unsuccessful search, we had a friend ask his Somali co-worker to help us find camel milk. He offered to try a halal market on Franklin, predicting that they probably wouldn't have it. Inside the store, a half-Somali, half-English conversation involving six people ensued. Before we knew it, we were being ushered into a limo by its driver, a Somali man who was determined to help us track down our camel milk.

At the first market, our fearless guide walked through the back door, exchanged a few words with the butcher, and shook his head. "There's no camel milk here." We tried another market. Then another. We asked some confused Holy Land employees. Finally, our driver announced that we were to stay in the car. "They don't trust you because you're white," he said. He went in alone.

Our last stop was a restaurant that we'd tried before and were turned away from. Ten minutes later, he came out with the four containers of camel milk, which sold for $2 each. We thanked the him profusely and headed home with our contraband.

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The Troyer Family: Farming and Living with Organic Convictions

In the green pastureland of Michigan, there’s an 80-acre farm where old traditions have created new innovations. While the Troyer family has the horses, beef cattle and chickens you’d expect, the placid herd of camels might surprise you. But the healthy demand for camel milk allows the farm to make the payments and keep family farm working.

Marlin and Savannah Troyer “met cute” in a bakery, where she worked with his sister. Once he saw the shy, smiling brown-eyed girl, he had his sister ask Savannah if she was interested in a courtship leading to marriage, a tradition in their Amish culture. Nine months later, they were wed. Children followed quickly, because once they had their first, they decided to “just have them all together,” he recalls. The Troyers are the proud parents of four boys. Their two young sons, Ray and Tristan, are home-schooled and help on the farm, and they dearly remember the two sons who preceded them to heaven in 2013.

Marlin was born in La Grange, Indiana, like his parents, who have Swiss-German roots. When he was three, the family first moved to Montana where they learned the trade of Log Homes which they brought to MI in 1987, so Marlin grew up with his 10 siblings as hard workers who loved animals. Now one of Marlin’s brothers, and Savannah’s sister and her husband help on the farm, making it an idyllic family farm setting.

Marlin loved interaction with animals his whole life. He began working with horses at 12, then training them at 14. After becoming a licensed contractor and developing his own supply business for log cabins and selling rustic log furniture, he was ready to devote more time to animals. He bought three camels from a friend which introduced him to camels, Marlin soon ended up becoming the second person to milk camels for US commercial use as (Camel Milk Association). “My start was based off my love for animals and the lifestyle they give you. I know the wisdom of niche markets and knew that’s where I would work in my whole life. I’ve drunk all kinds of raw animal milks, like many Amish people. It made sense to me that if you’re going to have and train them, you’d milk them too.”

In addition to drinking camel and goat, cow milks, his own family eats a health-enhanced version of the typical American diet. “Steak, potatoes, homemade baked goods, foods from the garden. We freeze and can our own fruits, meats, vegetables, all of it. Do our own chickens, meat and eggs, and we have a herd of beef cows and Highlander cattle.” Marlin bought a white-faced buffalo to cross with his beef cattle and breed ‘beefalo’. The busy family also makes it own applesauce, grape juice and cider. “We don’t buy out of the store like most people do. We get paper products, cleaners, non-food items, but also pasta and things we don’t make. Our goal is to eat real food and stay away from aspartame and processed foods with coloring and all the junk in it, high fructose corn syrup and things.”

While Marlin ran his furniture/log home supply store, he met his first child with autism. “The kid was bouncing off my brand-new furniture, but I could see something was wrong. He made strange noises, darted around the store and refused to make eye contact with anybody. Whenever the dad tried to do something, the kid would calm down for a minute but go right back to it. Dad was embarrassed but I could see how hard he was trying. I never got onto the son for his behavior--I just let dad do his thing. The dad became a repeat customer. Over time I saw the boy improve, but he was still mostly very autistic.”

After the Troyers left the Amish for the Mennonite church in 2011, technology became more accessible to Marlin. “When I got the internet, and got into camel milk, I got a crash course on autism,” he says. “It is a gut-brain connection and linked to the digestive tract. I tell people it’s a neurological problem that they cannot focus and develop naturally. They get into mental reverse and lose skills.”

Camel milking has become Marlins mission. “I always wanted to do something with animals, but also had medical interests. Right now I’m in the local fire department, and planning to be an EMT. I wanted to be like a doctor or something, and the camel milk is ending up fulfilling both those desires.”

He enjoys making a difference in his customers’ lives. “When a mom calls up crying for joy because her baby said I love you, mom, for the first time in two years, what are you going to do? I mean, you’re going to cry, too. They never knew the kid could even sing a song, and then he sings three in one day. It’s all about the cause for me now.”

You can find them on their web site at www.camelmilkforsale.com.

Gods Blessings to each of you!

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Ryan Bruchman
Ryan Bruchman

What? What would have made you think that finding raw camel milk in Minnesota wouldn't be hard?!

Charlene Ault
Charlene Ault

It loses all of its nutritional value if it's pasteurized.

Jackson King
Jackson King

"driver, a Somali man who was determined to help us track down our camel milk." I bet he took you the longest possible way to get you there too...


@fromSoDak Me neither but it’s gotten to the point where nothing these savages do even surprises me anymore. Worthless drains on society.


@StPaul_Brandon when I look back on what they had over there during the 50s and 60s compared to now. They can just go away.


@StPaul_Brandon Iran had some big time farming back in the 70s. Big Bud built a special batch of tractors for them. Now camel milk smuggling

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