BY KATIE TANDY AND ERIKA PINO The Establishment , November 5th, 2015 Photos by Erika Pino
"I think we can all agree that goats are a little weird. Or at least, seemingly. They are, perhaps, not unlike the elusive durian—much-maligned for being thorny and smelly. But just as the durian’s facade gives way to delectably sweet fruit, so too does a goat’s. And, unlike a durian, which—spoiler alert!—will only give a fleeting moment of pleasure and then turns into decidedly unusable poo, a goat’s bowel movement is an instant and potent fertilizer.
Genevieve Church, general manager for City Grazing—an urban goat landscaping business in the Bayview district of San Francisco—knows firsthand just how useful (and sneakily delightful) goats can actually be.
City Grazing is set against a background that is nothing short of surreal, sharing its uber-industrial location with its parent company, Waste Solutions Group (WSG), amid heaping piles of gravel, rumbling train tracks, and a cement plant. And the eight-acre farm serves as a revolutionary model for ecologically sound landscaping.
Goat-grazing enables properties both big and small to have unwanted brush, weeds and bushes cleared utterly au naturel, sans gas-powered lawn mowers and toxic herbicides and chemicals. Goats are also particularly nimble, able to traverse areas that machines and people alike wouldn’t be able to tackle, like steep ditches and slopes.
And we already mentioned the power of the poo.
In fact, the entire entity of City Grazing exists as a testament to eco-consciousness that few facilities can boast. Genevieve explains that the president and CEO of WSG, David Gavrich,wanted “an environmentally-friendly face” for the company. He hoped to demonstrate his commitment to his methods and believed a willingness to have live animals on the property would illustrate just that. WSG’s methods are so damn safe, goats can graze on the property.
The 83 goats that call City Grazing home decidedly work for their keep—they’re professional nibblers after all—but Genevieve says she thrives in a place where “working animals get to live out their entire natural life,” a relative anomaly.
“Goats are the punks of the animal world.”
Genevieve explains that there is a struggle to realistically challenge commercial landscaping when City Grazing is doing something that’s largely unprecedented and dedicated to staunch environmentalism.
“Can we be competitive with the landscaping industry and still do what we do? Depends on the project. Depends on how you’re factoring in certain things, like the fact that we leave behind a layer of compost—meaning you’re no longer paying to bring that in. So if you’re starting a garden, we’re a really good way to do it. You’re taking the unwanted vegetation on your property and turning it right back into this compost that’s coming out of the goat! In terms of environmental stewardship and doing what’s right for your little chunk of the planet, we’re an incredible value. How do you put a price on that?”
Genevieve grew up on a farm herself in a “tiny California town” called Coarse Gold, but left the heady stench of dirt and bulls behind—”I never thought I’d work with animals again!” she says—and went to art school before wending her way to tattoo shops in San Francisco. (More on that in a minute.)
She answered an ad for help on the goat farm a few years ago and has never looked back. She’s particularly keen on her hircine comrades. “Horses and dogs are fine, but they’re not my chosen beast. They’re too highly trained. Breaking a horse is an accurate metaphor. Goats can be aggressive and obnoxious and still get the job done for me. I love their spirit—you have to work for their love. Goats are the punks of the animal world.”
These goats of City Grazing are a beautiful band of hirsute misfits—they come from all walks of life; some are failed dairy goats, some were bought at auctions from overzealous homeowners, and some have been “rescued” from the 4-H agricultural program, which teaches children (among other things) about plant and animal science. (Which, err, often includes knowledge-drops on the potential slaughtering of a beloved hand-raised goat.)
“A lot of times people buy goats, but they don’t need as many as they get. They have three acres, they buy five animals, and quickly their acreage looks like the surface of Mars! We do try to not have so many of them coming from other settings as adults, because they don’t fit in and can get picked on. But we often take the goats that have too big of a personality to end up on the meat truck! They’re too sweet and affectionate.”
But don’t be mistaken. Despite Genevieve’s penchant—and patience!—for the goats of City Grazing, it’s strenuous work. Some of these goats are straight-up ornery, horned, and weigh 200 pounds; corralling a herd of bleating insolent goats in and out of trucks, in and out of urban environments, isn’t for the faint of heart or weak of bicep. The property itself in Bayview teems with dust and wind and the incessant clamoring of hooves, horns, and staccato yelpings.
The physicality of the job is something Genevieve utterly takes for granted; she attributes her attitude to a felicitous coupling of a rugged upbringing and formidable role models.
“When I was 14, my sister bought me a copy of Our Bodies, Ourselves. I was a girl of the ’80s; I’m from a big family, with a lot of powerful women. And my dad never expected any less from his daughters than his sons. I can remember being 8 and being told, ‘Don’t let the cows go past you!’ And we’re talking about a herd of 40, big, unhappy animals being moved from one area to another and I was expected to make them do a 90 [degree turn.] You just did it. You just found it in yourself and made it happen. I’ve never felt like being a woman has held me back. It’s always just felt like a tool for me to use if I felt like it. I tend to just steamroll people if I feel like they’re holding me back . . . like these goats!”
Genevieve also explained that she is decidedly not the anomaly—there’s not only a host of women who work with livestock and head up goat grazing services like Rent A Ruminant (helmed by Tammy Dunakin) and Livestock for Landscapes (owned by Kathy Voth), but there is no other profession in the United States that has experienced as significant a gender shift as veterinary medicine. A vocation once dominated by men now sees its schools occupied by almost 80% women, compared to 1930, when less than 1% of all veterinarians were female. This stark reversal is still largely unexplained, chalked up to a complicated mix of shifting socio-cultural-political forces.
“There's no profession in the US that has experienced a gender shift like veterinary medicine.”
Interestingly enough, Genevieve says her worst struggles against sexism were found not out in the field, but in the hot heart of tattoo parlors in the ’90s.
“I encountered far more bias coming from women working in tattooing in 1991 than I ever did from men ever on any aspect of my career as a farmer. I had a biker chick who was tattooing in a parlor in San Francisco when I went in, and had her throw things at me for even inquiring [about a job], because I wasn’t a biker and how dare I. And there was a massive amount of sexual harassment there . . . getting through those barriers, that was serious. The tattooing industry at that time was a hardcore, incredibly male-dominated world. But I don’t know, I wanted to do it, so I did. And I do think part of that was my childhood—if you have to turn a 800-pound longhorn bull that’s very angry . . . I learned to do whatever I want and find a way.”
City Grazing, while it struggles against the desolation-induced drought that every farmer, landscaper and land-worker laments here in California, only continues to grow and evolve. It has set its sights on becoming a non-profit, and is eager to expand its reach beyond the voracious appetites of goats to foster environmental education—especially among children.
If it sounds exhausting, Genevieve understands.“I’m 43! After 40 I needed sleep, which was an unfortunate mortality moment, but I have a sense of humor about it..."
A Boxer named Claudius Tiberius Drusus Nero Germanicus Eyeballs a Boer Goat Named Gandalf
Environmentally Friendly Blogging This week’s blog post is only marginally related to the commercial real estate industry. However, I believe there are businesses and service lines within our industry who may put this article’s information to practical use.
I recently learned of an ingenious and environmentally friendly service that Bay Area real estate developers, golf courses, property landlords, schools, homeowners, municipalities, construction companies or unmotivated, suburban husbands may find quite interesting – and fascinating.
As a longtime blogger, I have also discovered that the most successful blogs tend to combine targeted business niche stories with local human interest stories. Hopefully the humans who find this story interesting will also be fond of goats.
A Herd in the Distance I was peering out of the window of my Marin County apartment a week ago and noticed a group of smallish, furry animals about 160 yards in the distance. They were grazing on the hillside overlooking the northernmost part of Sausalito, CA, located approximately five minutes from the Golden Gate Bridge and 30 minutes from San Francisco’s Central Business District. As the crow flies, it’s only 12 miles from The City.
There are no farms or animal pastures anywhere in this vicinity, so I wasn’t at all sure of what beasts I was seeing on the horizon. I grabbed a pair of binoculars and made an interesting discovery.
Approximately 40 goats, yearlings and adults were calmly feasting on the scruffy hillside vegetation. They were surrounded by a temporary wire mesh fence, which had electric fence warnings signs posted on it.
citygrazing.com After a little online research, I stumbled on the website of citygrazing.com
City Grazing is a San Francisco-based goat landscaping business. They offer an environmentally friendly solution to weed control by renting out goats to clear public and private land.
O.OO% Lawnmower Noise According to the website, goat-grazing is an ecologically sound practice that eliminates the need for toxic herbicides, chemicals, and gas-powered lawn mowers.
The goats easily clear brush in areas that people or machines cannot reach, like steep slopes or ditches. Depending on the size and scope of the project, the goats live within the enclosed space 24/7 and leave everything in broom clean and freshly fertilized condition. One of their favorite treats is poison oak. Yummie.
Goat-grazing is an Ecologically Sound Practice
Meet Spock, Double Stuff, Bumblebee, Oreo and White Wizard Among the herd are an eclectic variety of goat breeds, including Boer, Alpine, Nigerian Dwarf and Pygmy. On Facebook, I also found out that the goats all have names. There’s Bumblebee, Oreo, Spock, Harley, Orphan, Itsy, Bitsy, Kumquat, KitKat, AC, DC, Double Stuff, Paulie, Princess, White Wizard, Cinnamon Bear, Knievel and many others.
Your New Lawmower: Spock the Vulcan White Goat
Organic & Natural Fire Prevention Citygrazing.com also reports that grazing goats restore soil fertility by providing organic fertilizer. Whether you have acres or simply an overgrown backyard, the goats are eager to eat weeds and aid in fire prevention, naturally.
Oreo Devours a Nappy Backyard Garden
Connecting Goats with the Greater World According to General Manager Genevieve Church, who runs all operations for City Grazing, ” The goats also do freelance work as entertainers. Some of them are natural stars who love cameras and attention. They’re available for parties, educational visits, acting roles, documentaries and special events of all kinds.”
The herd is very friendly, lively, and great with children. As they work around the city, City Grazing also teaches about animal husbandry and ecological stewardship of industrial land. While they are not out on the job, the herd lives on a pasture in San Francisco’s Bayview district, between the SF Bay Railroad and a cement recycling plant. City Grazing is happy to answer any inquiries and enjoys finding creative opportunities to connect goats with the greater world. Their phone number is 415. 642.7172, or send an email to email@example.com
Electric Fence Means No Coyotes I exchanged a couple of emails with Ms. Church and asked about the electric fence. I was also worried about the coyotes who I know roam these parts day and night. These goats are so friendly and innocent and would make easy prey.
Coyotes Are Common in the Headlands
Frankly, goat grazing is one of the best and most creative problem solving ideas I’ve heard of in a long time. I also get the feeling that the local residents enjoy having the goats in view. It has a calming, bucolic effect on humans.
Watching the animals grazing reminds me of a Greek countryside panorama or that scene in the Godfather where the fugitive Michael Corleone walks to the Sicilian village of Corleone to discover his roots and his future wife, Appolonia.
By Mike Kirner
Originally published on The E'ville Eye Community News
If you happen to be driving or biking down Horton and spot a herd of goats in Emeryville of all places, you’re not seeing things. The goats have been employed to remove the vegetation while the remediated Sherwin-Williams parcel awaits development. Overgrowth can be problematic and even a fire hazard during summer months (especially during a drought!). “We have almost 8.5 acres inside our fence. I felt this would be a low-impact option for control” noted Sherwin Property Environmental Project Manager Larry Mencin who first inquired about the option with the city. Mencin called City Grazing who specialize in using goats for this type of urban brush clearing.
City Grazing has been in business for eight years and has about five employees (not including the goats of course ;). General Manager Genevieve Church described the permitting process as fairly effortless. “The City was a bit cautious because they’ve never issued a permit for goats before but were extremely cooperative. They asked standard questions about safety, noise and security. Goats can be a bit opportunistic, so having a secure perimeter is important and the Sherwin property was well fortified.” noting they did a sweep of the fence line to patch any broken chain links. If the perimeter is not secure, electrified fence needs to be installed which can drive up the cost significantly.
The use of goats to remove brush is competitive with “traditional” methods of clearing but offer the benefit of fertilizing the top soil. No composting is required and the nutrients return straight back to the earth. Using them avoids loud gasoline-powered equipment, toxic herbicides and there’s no need to haul away the brush afterward. They’re also very agile and can get to spots that humans and machinery can’t.
“Goats are not picky eaters and have a high need for copper and selenium in their diet according to our vets at U.C. Davis” noted Church. “This is present in the most common types of vegetation which include pampas grass, Ivy & Blackberry leaves”. Goats can even clear Poison Oak which Church compared to being like Tabasco sauce to them. “It’s good to mix it in but you wouldn’t want them to eat it exclusively the way a person wouldn’t want to chug hot sauce straight out of the bottle!” The most common plant within California that can be toxic to goats is oleander but there are others and scouting the property for these is part of the estimate.
While City Gazing strongly discourages feeding the goats (goats should not eat any “human” food and are sensitive to food with a high sugar content), they do encourage interacting with them. Since they are predominantly used in urban environments, some level of socialization is necessary. “They’re all individuals. Some are curious, some are shy. We encourage people to stop by and check them out”. Keep in mind that they do have a job to do so they should not be discouraged from “working”. Church also wanted to emphasize the need to leash dogs in the area, mainly for the safety of the dogs. She noted that most dogs are curious but cautious with the exception of Poodles “For some reason Poodles can be very aggressive toward them!” The goats are also great with children and are ambassadors for animal husbandry and ecological stewardship of industrial land.
The forty or so mixed-breed goats were brought in by truck on May 15th and should be here for another week or so but may be lifted if they finish early. Their next “assignment” will be near the Presidio in SF. While they are not out on the job, the herd lives on a pasture in San Francisco’s Bayview district. City Grazing also has goats available for backyard grazing, parties, educational visits, acting roles, documentaries, and other special events and are available to answer any inquiries.
Hungry herd prepares hillside for Pride weekend’s Pink Triangle
San Francisco, CA – In preparation for Pride Weekend, San Francisco Public Works commissioned help from a herd of weed-eating goats to clear the Twin Peaks hillside for the annual Pink Triangle installation.
The four-legged crew provides an alternative to machinery and herbicides. They arrived at the edible worksite Thu rsday evening and are expected to be on the job through the weekend. They will be supervised day and night by human goat herders.
“Thank God for goats. They can navigate the steep terrain nimbly and access areas that our employees would have a much harder time traversing safely to get the job done,” said San Francisco Public Works Director Mohammed Nuru. “Plus, goats are eco-friendly and really fun to see in the middle of San Francisco.”
City Grazing is providing the 50 or so goats, and temporary fencing was e rected around the roughly 1-acre site to keep them from wandering away from the Twin Peaks hillside that faces the Castro and downtown San Francisco. The herd is a mix of goat breeds, including Boer, Alpine, Nigerian Dwarf and Pygmy.
“These goats have won the goat lottery. All they do is eat for a living,” said City Grazing manager Genevieve Church.
The hoofed herd provides benefits other than just controlling vegetation: the goats’ poop adds nutrients to the soil, and their urine slows down weed growth.
Volunteers are set to install the huge canvas pink triangle on the Twin Peaks hillside on Saturday, June 28, starting at 7 a.m. The pink triangle, staked to the hillside during Pride weekend, was the identifying symbol that gay men had to wear on their clothing in Nazi concentration camps in the 1930s and into the 1940s. The LGBT community has since taken on the pink triangle as their own symbol of pride.
The large pink triangle has been placed near the top of Twin Peaks every year since 1995…”
Right in the southeast sector of San Francisco near the waterfront, 28 adorable goats have become proud mamas, with most of them birthing twins. That’s right, in one of America’s largest cities, at the Port of San Francisco, there’s an industrious herd of almost 100 goats. They’ve been seen working hard to eradicate poison oak near the Presidio Gates, busily eating away invasive blackberry bushes in Bernal Heights, and happily removing ivy and weeds in residential back yards throughout the Bay Area.
City Grazing proudly announces the birth of 50 baby goats from 28 mothers over the past month. Twenty does (mothers) had twins, one had triplets, and seven had singles.
While the cuteness factor will be sky high over the next few months as these new arrivals play amongst themselves, they will soon be called into service to help prevent the impending fire hazard created by California’s worst drought on record. Goats are a useful ecological approach to fire prevention. In San Francisco, they also help to manage overgrown backyards, 3-5 goats at a time. As public awareness grows, so does City Grazing’s business. Our family of goats has evolved from urban backyard landscapers to hillside browsers as the need for natural weed and brush abatement has expanded. If the vegetation is green and growing rapidly from a sudden rain, or if it is dry and brown from lack of rainfall, the demand for goat grazing will be high.
To come photograph or film these urban goats, email City Grazing’s Goat
Whisperer, Genevieve Church: firstname.lastname@example.org.
We’re kidding, and you should see it!