Goats grazing San Francisco
February 7, 2017 • 195 views
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Maybe you have walked by Clarendon and been surprised to see a busy herd of goats. Maybe you, like me, were confused about why they were there. Not only are they entertaining to watch as they eat seemingly anything in sight, but they also serve an interesting and important purpose.
Land is commonly cleared of invasive vegetation using industrial machines, but recently there has been a return to more traditional practices. Several companies, including City Grazing, have reintroduced the employment of livestock to eat their way through unwanted growth.
City Grazing stands out from other grazing companies such as California Grazing because of their small-scale focus. Founded by David Gavrich, City Grazing brings these sustainable clearance practices to the Bay Area. Gavrich is also president and CEO of the San Francisco Bay Railroad, an independent three line rail service. In search of an environmentally friendly way to maintain the land alongside the tracks, Gavrich purchased six baby goats to get the job done by eating invasive vegetation. From that point on, Gavrich developed this strategy into the business model that is now City Grazing, employing 76 goats available for rental.
The goats of City Grazing can be rented for a variety of projects, from the clearance of a small San Francisco backyard to an acre of land. Among some of the larger projects they have taken on is an annual clearance of the University of San Francisco Lone Mountain campus and work for Parks and Recreation. When necessary, part time human employees are hired to help out with larger projects. The pricing of these projects is affected by many variables including size of the land, location, what is growing there, and whether or not the property is already fenced.
In an interview for The Urban Legend, executive director of City Grazing, Genevieve Church, described the company’s business model as “a win-win all the way around … It just so happens that goats’ favorite foods are some of the worst invasive plants in California.” City Grazing’s goats most commonly confront seed-bearing annual plants, which live for only one season. These plants, Church said, “are very easy to discourage using grazing animals.”
Church mentioned that there is work being done to explore carbon sequestration, or the removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, which she refers to as “soil science.” Perennial plants, or those whose life expectancies exceed two years, can be trimmed to the root line by the goats to encourage healthy development under the soil. This, Church explained, means that the roots of these plants are “pulling CO2 out of the air and storing it in the soil in a crystalline form.” This crystalline form, she added, “can be stable for thousands of years.” The majority of plants native to California are perennial, the replenishing of which results in an increased ability of soil to retain water as well as higher fertility.
“I think of the goats as employees and coworkers,” Church said. “Animals are just like people … They have individual personalities and they have individual preferences,” so City Grazing aims to give each animal care and attention. All of the goats are hand tamed to ensure their comfort in an urban environment, not to mention each of them has a name. This relationship between the goats and the humans of City Grazing is what differentiates them from larger grazing corporations operating with thousands of animals; “They’re a part of the family,” Church said.
The goats can be hired for a range of projects, not all focused on clearing land. “We spent fourteen hours on the Facebook campus shooting a commercial,” Church said, but “they ended up using two seconds of goat footage.” The goats have been hired for other commercials and they have been taken to birthday parties, but, Church said, “what is more important for us is the community events that we do,” particularly involvement with schools. She explained City Grazing’s belief that “environmental education is facilitated by the presence of animals: it gets kids interested in the planet they live on.” In hopes of engaging in more projects and partnerships with the community, City Grazing plans to become a non-profit organization. Because after all, City Grazing’s main mission is to engage the community in development around animal husbandry and ecological stewardship with the help of the goats.