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Goat farm producing natural, sustainable meat

Goats roam one of Big Oak Farm's pastures near Petaluma. Once focused on dairy production, the Pomi family has begun raising goats on the farm. They say the meat is healthy, and goats are good for the environment. (IJ photo/Alan Dep)

Nancy Isles Nation, Marin IJ

Big Oak Farms was a dairy producer for generations, but in recent years members of the Pomi family discontinued the milk operation and brought in beef cattle and goats. The change was key to keeping the 500-acre farm in the family and producing sustainable agricultural products that will make the operation viable for the next generation.

The Pomis were one of the first families to sign a contract with the Marin Agricultural Land Trust to guarantee that their land in Northern Marin near the Sonoma County border will remain agricultural forever.

In April 2007 the land was certified as organic, and in August 2007 the Pomis bought a herd of pure-bred Boer goat bucks and mixed-bred Boer does.

Cindy Pomi
scratches the neck of one of her goats on her ranch near Petaluma. (IJ photo/AlanDep)

Goat might not be on a lot of dinner tables in the United States these days, but the Pomis say that is beginning to change. They say it's healthy and good for the environment and it's catching on.

"When you buy goat meat, you get something extremely healthy and fresh," said Helge Hellberg, executive director of Marin Organic. "It's good for family farms and you are helping the county. I think goat is underrated."

Hellberg said residents of Marin and the Bay Area will embrace the goat meat concept because they are aware of agricultural production issues and want to eat locally produced, naturally raised food.

"In Marin, they know it's an investment in their health and the health of the county," Hellberg said. "Marin is really far out when it comes to food diversity."

Cindy Pomi runs the farm with her husband, Mark, his parents, Ron and Patty Pomi, and her sister-in-law, Kim, and her husband, Jim Naugle. Cindy Pomi said the family began planning the goat operation after it stopped dairy production and began the beef cattle business in 2004.

They diversified the business and now have about 180 does and 100 kids. The breeds are fast-growing animals that have a high percentage of meat.

The goats receive no hormones or antibiotics. They are harvested in six to eight months when they reach 75 to 80 pounds. Each goat yields about 40 pounds of meat. Customers can order it on the Big Oak Farms Web site and pick it up from a local butcher.

The goats are slaughtered humanely in a stress-free environment, according to Pomi, who grew up on a cattle ranch in the San Joaquin Valley and graduated from California Polytechnic State University.

A whole goat costs $300 and a half is $175, with additional charges for butchering, cutting and wrapping.

The meat is lean and higher in protein than beef or chicken, and has less fat, calories and cholesterol than other meats. Meat from young goats is tender and flavorful.

Pomi said raising animals for meat is something she has always known. "It's part of my life and it's part of my kids' life," she said.

Several other West Marin ranchers are raising goats for meat and say they complement other stock, eating thistles, Scotch broom and other plants that cows and sheep bypass.

"It's perfect nature," said Bill Niman, who raises cattle at his ranch in Bolinas.

In January, friends of Bill and Nicolette Niman hauled their herd to the ranch from Oregon to feed for the winter. By spring, 600 kids were born. Niman kept about 80 goats for harvest.

"They improved the pasture for the cattle that are also here," Niman said. "I think it is a very healthful and sustainable animal."

Niman, who is no longer associated with the Niman Ranch brand of beef and pork he created but remains a shareholder in the business, said goats are ideal for smaller farmers. He said they are labor-intensive and cannot be put into feed lots like cattle that are raised industrially.

"I think it's definitely the animal of the future," Niman said. "They are a benefit to the environment as well as the people eating them."

David Evans, whose Marin Sun Farms built its reputation on grass-fed beef, produces about 60 kids a year for harvest. He said it's a new meat to many people so there is a resistance to trying it. "In the past it's been more of a specialty ethnic-based meat," Evans said.

He said goats eat less than cows and help diversify the operation. "They are very durable animals and disease-resistant," Evans said.

Peter McNee, the chef at Poggio restaurant in Sausalito, occasionally serves goat as a special and recently included it on a spit-roasted meat cart that also offered suckling pig, rabbit and assorted game birds.

McNee said he likes to serve goat because when he lived in Italy it was a common food.

"It wasn't trendy or cool, it was what they ate," McNee said, adding that Spanish and Latino cultures also eat a lot of goat. "It's only beginning to catch on with the mainstream Bay Area but not mainstream America."

He said goat will never be an easy sell like steaks or chicken.

"Being a Tuscan restaurant, I want to pay homage to everything I saw and learned and ate," McNee said. "I love to work with the best ingredients and sometimes the more diverse ingredients - or food that you think peasants are working with.

"We really shine when we work with those ingredients."

Contact Nancy Isles Nation via e-mail at nnation@marinij.com