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Thursday, July 31, 2014

Farmer seeks new super food – from camels

ASHEVILLE, N.C. – Dr. Frank King is looking for the next super food on his farm north of Asheville. Against the backdrop of the Newfound Mountains, his herd of 300 majestic bison graze the rolling pastures – raised for their leaner, healthier meat.

But Leicester is more than where the buffalo roam. The farm is also home to a herd of 23 camels – humped dromedary camels, familiar in tour shots of the Egyptian pyramids, and double-humped hairy Bactrians, native to Asia and comfortable in mountain cold. “Those are the animals that built the Great Wall of China,” King said. ...

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ASHEVILLE, N.C. – Dr. Frank King is looking for the next super food on his farm north of Asheville. Against the backdrop of the Newfound Mountains, his herd of 300 majestic bison graze the rolling pastures – raised for their leaner, healthier meat.

But Leicester is more than where the buffalo roam. The farm is also home to a herd of 23 camels – humped dromedary camels, familiar in tour shots of the Egyptian pyramids, and double-humped hairy Bactrians, native to Asia and comfortable in mountain cold. “Those are the animals that built the Great Wall of China,” King said.

Now King hopes to build a new business on the camel’s milk. Long a staple food in the Mideast, camel milk could provide nutrition and dietary supplements and sell at prices starting at $18 a pint in this country.

We are largely what we eat, King argues. “Epigenetics suggest that we can actually change our genes by how we live. Right now in modern society, we are like polar bears released into a Death Valley environment. When people connect with nature, they feel better, and wild is better.”

Camels are some of the most adaptive animals on the planet, able to endure blazing hot Saharan deserts and bitterly cold Mongolian steppes. Consuming their milk could provide health benefits. Some Amish parents, for example, believe that camel milk can help their children with autism and attention deficient disorders, King said. The Amish have started their own camel dairies in this country.

“The milk is tasty. The dromedaries’ milk has a slightly salted taste and creamier. The Bactrians’ is less salty,” King said. King and his family are drinking about four doses a day for better health.

King has always been interested in health. He trained as a chiropractor and naturopathic doctor in Atlanta. In 1989, he opened his King Bio plant in Leicester, creating homeopathic remedies with a distilled water base. In the past year, King’s pharmaceuticals have gone mainstream, appearing over the counter in shelves at Whole Foods, Earthfare, Walmart, CVS, Walgreen’s, Target and other top retailers. King Bio employs more than 100 people and reported revenues of around $10 million last year. King expects those revenues could double this year.

Looking for a better diet led King into the bison business. Bison was the staple of the American Indian and has less fat and cholesterol than many fish or conventional beef. King has turned Carolina Bison into a more than $3 million business that will harvest and sell some 5,000 bison this year in local stores and restaurants.

Homeopathy, bison meat and now camel milk all fit into King’s philosophy of a “Healing Revolution” – a line of books and videos he’s promoting with his products.

The farmhands keep the wild bison and the domesticated camels in separate pastures behind electrified fencing. “We don’t want to see a bison horn in a camel’s side,” King said.

Farm manager Mike Ellington finds that caring for both the strong and unpredictable bison and the more passive and friendly camels makes for an interesting work day.

Old Jack, the herd’s bull camel, stands about 8 feet tall at his hump and likely weighs in at around 1,900 pounds. He wanders over to the gate, looking for handouts of hay. “Old Jack, he’s just a people person,” said Ellington, a veteran livestock man who once rode bulls and worked as a rodeo clown before joining King’s operation.

And contrary to common assumption, camels drool, rather than spit, at human visitors. “They’re pretty nice,” said Terry Worley, another of King’s “cameleros.” “They aren’t as bad as I thought, not as bad as a llama. Llamas are bad to spit.”

The camels are milked by hand, producing about two gallons a day. The farm hands put the mothers in with their babies to get the milk flowing, then move the youngsters aside. “You don’t have to bend over,” King said. “You can milk standing up.”

They are still experimenting with pasteurization methods, required by federal law if the milk is to be sold across state lines, although King hopes that rules will be relaxed for raw milk products in the future. For now, they have a 15-second flash pasteurization method that leaves more of the nutrients intact.

Through his Wild Foods Foundation nonprofit, King is pursuing research on camel milk as well as products from 29 Himalayan yak and a pair of exotic African Watusi, a kind of herd animal whose 8-foot-long horns put Texas longhorns to shame. African tribes blend Watusi milk and blood together in a fermented drink.

In a lower pasture, a herd of 25 wisent, or European wood bison, quietly graze. As ancestors of the North American bison, King keeps them to strengthen the breeding program.

King is also breeding another rarity – white buffalo, which occur in nature only perhaps one in a million. With about 18 white buffalo, King may have the largest collection in the country.

Considered sacred among some American Indian tribes, the white buffalo will not be harvested for meat, but King sees potential profit in their lighter cooled wool, which is 40 times warmer than sheep’s wool.

Driving down into the tall grass of the pasture, King headed into the midst of the grazing white bison and parked his truck among the massive creatures. “There’s something peaceful about being around the white buffalo. You don’t feel the same aggressive power as among the other bison. I feel it.”

The North American continent once was home to an estimated 60 million bison, which were hunted nearly to extinction in the 19th century, with only about 1,000 survivors.

The prophesy of some tribes held that with the return of the buffalo, all people of all races would be reunited in health, King said. “The white man wiped out the bison. Cardiovascular disease is wiping out the white man, now the bison have come back to help out the white man.”