Herd it through the grape vine

photo courtesy Sarah Hawkins/Castle Rock Farm

BY LYLE KENDRICK

Takoma Park is poised to restrict herbicide and pesticide use throughout the city. The Safe Grow pesticide ban passed the first of two city council votes Monday, July 15. The second, final, vote is set for July 22.

Once passed, residents and the city public works department will be looking for environmentally-friendly pesticide alternatives. There are non-pesticide methods for weed control such as aeration and using vinegar – which the green-minded city already uses – but other jurisdictions across the country have turned to a four-legged solution: goats.

Photo by Amanda Vierling

Photo by Amanda Vierling

Controlling weeds with goats is a practice catching on all over the country as more people seek alternatives to herbicides, said Craig Madsen, a co-owner of Healing Hooves, an Edwall, Wash., vegetation management company that uses goats.

They are excellent tools for weed management, said Madsen. He uses 240 goats for 15 to 20 clients each year.

Furry tools

Madsen’s furry tools perform tasks from full weed removal to initial site treatment where the goats, contained within electric fences, remove part of the weeds and the client uses another method to finish the job.

Goats are particularly effective when dealing with rocky sites or areas with steep slopes that make using machinery difficult, Madsen said.

Braithwaite said the city considered goats but because of the required fenced-in area for containing a herd, the city does not have the appropriate space.

photo courtesy Sarah Hawkins/Castle Rock Farm

photo courtesy Sarah Hawkins/Castle Rock Farm

Goats are mostly used for the massive growth of invasive species, which is not covered in the ordinance proposed by the Safe Grow initiative, said Daryl Braithwaite, director of public works.

“So far it hasn’t proven to be a good fit for us,” she said. There are no current plans, then, to establish a city Goat Department, nor hire a City Goatherd.

Urban goats

But, that might just be a matter of time and persuasion. Madsen said goats are helping manage weeds in other urban areas throughout the country with few open spaces.

Healing Hooves works in cities, including Seattle, Madsen said.

Weeds in Takoma Piney Branch Park.

Weeds in Takoma Piney Branch Park.

Densely populated urban areas, however, can be challenging for goats because there are more potential liability issues and the goats need to be closely monitored, he said.

Goats not on the list

While the Safe Grow ordinance takes aim at cosmetic lawn care, the city does not have a widespread weed problem that would warrant the use of goats, said Seth Grimes, a councilman for Takoma Park.

Widespread weed problem - invasives choke steep valley behind the Takoma Park public works facility.

Widespread weed problem – invasive species choke steep valley behind the Takoma Park public works facility.

The proposed ordinance began two years ago when Takoma Park residents Julie Taddeo and Catherine Cummings, the cofounders of the Safe Grow initiative, began contacting neighbors about the effects of pesticides and herbicides.

The ordinance bans the use of 23 products on public and private property.

Takoma Park’s department of public works is examining weed control alternatives for public education when the ordinance passes, Braithwaite said. Goats are not on the list, so far.

photo courtesy Sarah Hawkins/Castle Rock Farm

photo courtesy Sarah Hawkins/Castle Rock Farm

Goat hope

As the ordinance is currently drafted, herbicides would still be permitted for invasive species and on areas that are not specifically lawns. Earlier drafts, however, were stricter, and some proponents of the bill are disappointed with the current, weaker version.

Given the slim chance that there are future efforts to restore those stricter provisions, Takoma Park may yet have cause to get its goat.

photo courtesy Sarah Hawkins/Castle Rock Farm

photo courtesy Sarah Hawkins/Castle Rock Farm

About the Author

Lyle Kendrick
Lyle Kendrick is a graduate student in journalism at the University of Maryland. He graduated from the University of North Carolina. He has worked for The Daily Tar Heel, an independent student newspaper, and the Cape Argus, a metro in Cape Town, South Africa. He loves movies, American history, national parks and the music of Paul Simon.

3 Comments on "Herd it through the grape vine"

  1. Steve Davies | July 18, 2013 at 12:47 pm |

    Bring on the goats! Perhaps the city could start producing TPC == Takoma Park Cheese.

    The article raises a question, however: Do we actually have a problem with invasives? The piece quotes Seth Grimes:

    “While the Safe Grow ordinance takes aim at cosmetic lawn care, the city does not have a widespread weed problem that would warrant the use of goats, said Seth Grimes, a councilman for Takoma Park.”

    But a photo right under that graf has a caption:

    “Widespread weed problem – invasives choke steep valley behind the Takoma Park public works facility.”

    (Notice the wording: “steep valley,” as in “perfect habitat for goats”)

    But which is it? I know that for the Circle Woods restoration project, herbicides were used to clear invasives, and arborist Todd Bolton has said they’re necessary to make way for native vegetation. Hasn’t climate change spurred the growth of invasive species, which are choking off the native plants? (and isn’t that why Friends of Sligo Creek opposed the Safe Grow Ordinance)?

  2. We couldn’t resist tweaking councilmember Grimes with that caption. And, noting the steepness of the valley was purely an objective observation. We’re not biased towards goats. It’s not like we would just love to see goats bouncing around our local parks because that would be SO cool – or anything.

  3. Steve Davies | July 23, 2013 at 12:18 pm |

    so, Seth is wrong and we do have a problem with invasives… I think.

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