USC alumnus discovers next super food craze

Middle Eastern herdsmen, Midwestern Amish farmers and California Whole Foods shoppers don’t seem like they’d have much in common. All three groups, however, impacted the creation and success of Desert Farms, a camel milk company founded by Walid Abdul-Wahab, who graduated from USC in 2013.

Initially, the idea for a  camel milk company was just a class project for Abdul-Wahab, but the idea earned him USC’s Marcia Israel Award, which motivated him to take the idea further.

Abdul-Wahab first drank camel milk while visiting family in Saudi Arabia last year though.

He admits he was skeptical at first, but Abdul-Wahab eventually became a believer.

“It quenched my thirst and worked as a meal replacement. It is such a whole, powerful food and I kept learning about it and researching it online,” Abdul-Wahab said.

After he returned to the United States, Abdul-Wahab began the  process of launching his company. He spent fall of 2013 researching camel farmers and working on his idea, and he officially founded Desert Farms in January 2014. The eight-month-old company now sells products in roughly 50 California Whole Foods stores.

Before starting Desert Farms, Abdul-Wahab worked for a real estate firm but  desired a job he was more passionate about. His passions for both health and his home country of Saudi Arabia inspired him to create Desert Farms.

One of Abdul-Wahab’s hopes for Desert Farms is giving his homeland, the Middle East, a more positive reputation.

“With all of the negative vibes everyone’s getting from the Middle East, I wanted to bring in something positive,” Abdul-Wahab said.

As an avid crossfitter and follower of the Paleo diet, Abdul-Wahab places a high emphasis on health. He was intrigued by the fact that Middle Eastern camel herders often survive almost solely on camel milk while taking their camels on long-distance journeys.

“If you can survive in the desert, you can survive anywhere else,” Abdul-Wahab said. “Camel milk feels to me like the ultimate dairy beverage.”

Judging by its nutritional facts, camel milk could very well live up to Abdul-Wahab’s praise of the drink. Camel milk contains 50 percent less fat than cow’s milk, and also provides 10 percent of the recommended daily protein intake. Whole camel’s milk contains approximately 110 calories, compared to 150 for whole cow’s milk.

Prior to Desert Farms’ founding, camel milk was already known for its health benefits. Research from King Saud University in Saudi Arabia demonstrated possible benefits of camel milk for autistic children. For this reason, a large portion of Desert Farms’ regular customers include parents of autistic children.

Desert Farms aims to spark a “camel milk revolution,” which could be difficult considering that cows currently outnumber camels by approximately 18,000 to one. One of Abdul-Wahab’s biggest challenges was simply locating camel farmers in the United States.

Though some people assume all camel milk in the United States is imported, it was important to Abdul-Wahab that his product was made in the USA. He spent the fall of 2013 touring Amish farms and “visiting every single farm to make sure they had a clean operation and everything was up to par.”

On the website, consumers can view detailed information about each of Desert Farms’ camel farms through an interactive map. Most farms are located in the Midwest and are family-owned by Amish families.

Providing this information to consumers is significant to Abdul-Wahab.

“[Desert Farms] wants to give full disclosure, so we tell consumers exactly who is milking the camels, what their background is in and what their practices are,” Abdul-Wahab said.

Desert Farms’ camels are grass-fed, with non-GMO feed. The camel milk contains no added hormones and is non-homogenized.

Sustainability definitely plays a large role in the company’s decisions and Desert Farms aims for it in every aspect of the production process, from energy efficiency to packaging.

Desert Farms’ website explains, “It’s essential to work alongside our farmers to reduce where possible. From water and energy efficiency, to reduced waste production and recycling, all of which translate directly to our carbon footprint.”

Abdul-Wahab intends to get his product “into 150 California stores by the end of this year, before expanding into other states.”

It’s obvious that Abdul-Wahab loves his camel milk and wants to share his “ultimate dairy beverage” with as many people as possible. Looking long-term, he hopes the company will be acquired by a large beverage company in order to make camel milk more available to consumers across the United States.

But those who don’t currently live near a store that offers camel milk can order the product online.

“The day you place an order, we’ll milk a camel for you and ship it the same day,” Abdul-Wahab said.

And in Desert Farms’ usual detail-orientated style, customers who order milk online even receive the name of the camel who produced their milk.

For Desert Farms, the “next big thing” was clearly inspired by old roots: from small local farms to Middle Eastern camel herders.