Yes, we have four stomachs making us thoughtful. Well, that makes us ruminative creatures.
We particularly like the unlimited buffet of Japanese Knotweed but we are fastidious to leave room for our favorite dessert, poison ivy.
And we of course really enjoy meeting the hundreds of people who visit and care for us. New Haven water is pretty darn cool too.
Our favorite day of the week is Sunday, when there’s a farmers’ market nearby and lots of folks to look at, and where no one’s going to sell or eat us.
Those were the highlights of an amusing (at least for me) interview with two of the six goats now busily eating the invasive species in a two-and-a-half acre fenced plot near the tennis courts in Edgewood Park.
The remarks courtesy of my interpreter, The Friends of Edgewood Park’s veep and informally designated “goat-keeper,” Michael Uhl.
Uhl has been working with a group of goats placed in a sprawling fenced-in area of Edgewood Park this summer on a mission to eliminate invaders. Invaders of the weed variety.
The goats arrived in May from the Green Goats farm in Rhinebeck, N.Y. (They stole some of the show from the artists at Westville’s recent Art Walk.) Since then, the small herd of dairy goats has been putting the bite on large swaths of the invasive species crowding out native flora.
“They’ve eaten through some stalks of Japanese knotweed five times,” explained Uhl, a mechanical and environmental engineer by training. When he joined the board of the Friends of Edgewood Park he made the suggestion of bringing in the goats. He’d seen the practice in Maryland, where he lived prior to coming to New Haven.
It was clear to him that the vigor of the at least dozen invasives in the park has thwarted decades of efforts of human volunteers, whose only only tools have been clippers, shovels, and large volumes of sweat.
The goats’ tools? Their own teeth.
“Their job is to eat 95 percent of the invasive species” in the fenced plot in which they are in this first year, Uhl explained on a tour of the project Friday.
The animals don’t eat the stalk or the roots of the plants. They continually eat the leaves, and then the new leaves that the knotweed, for example, sends out. Eventually the invasive is stressed, Its roots will no longer be viable, and it will die.
“This year you might see that the roots are not expanding,” Uhl said as we walked along the park’s Blue Trail up to Iris Pond, a natural barrier where no fence is needed. “The space is [definitely] clearer” now.
The plants that have been eaten by the goats in large patches come up to your waist or chest. Along the trail, in areas where the goats have not munched — but hopefully will be deployed next year, Uhl said — the Japanese Knotweed and Multiflora Rose, another invasive, rise in many clumps seven to ten feet high.
Partnering with the Friends of Edgewood Park, the Greater New Haven Green Fund gave an initial grant to rent the goats and to purchase the approximately 1,800 feet of fencing for the first year of the project.
Then came scores of volunteers, particularly crews from Chapel Haven, a nearby school for people with disabilities, to erect the fence, document with photographs the work of the goats, and supply daily buckets of water.
On Friday, their scheduled day, a half-dozen folks from Chapel Haven came by to do their chores. Max Schroeger, Michael Bennett, and Teal Patton led the way under the guidance of Chris Sidarweck, filling the buckets at the spigot about 40 yards away and shlepping the water to the herd.
They all said they like everything about the project.
“I like getting the water best,” Michael Bennett said.
Next up to admire the goats — although not to work on their behalf — was Paul Soares, who was up in the area walking his dog Shade. The golden retriever was not at all interested in the goats and they not in him.
A grandfather of kids he was visiting in the area, he approved of how the goats’ ravenous appetite “protects children from poison ivy.”
Soares said he had heard about the goats from the grandkids.
So had scores of other people. Uhl said that one of the surprises of the project thus far has been the waves of volunteers. The Friends of Edgewood Park have had to set up a discrete Facebook page just for the volunteers. “There’s almost not enough spots to sign up on the calendar,” Uhl said. “There’s a lot of generosity.”
Another surprise for him is that lots of people appear to have goats in their lives. Whether he runs into a new immigrant in the area or old-timers, whenever he visits the goats, people call up memories and share them with him and others who congregate around the animals and their enclosure.
Next up for the project is for the Friends to raise the $8,000 to $9,000 necessary to bring the goats back for a second year. The idea is to have them get to work on perhaps two plots on either side of the Mid-Bridge over the river, where the fencing will be moved. Less clear is where the money will come from.
Uhl said the group will launch fundraising activities to achieve that goal. Ideas thus far include contests to name the goats — names are being discouraged this year, as there is a rotating cast - - and an art exhibition and sale, based on the many photographs of the animals at work that are being taken and uploaded in the group’s Foogle album, by both professionals and volunteers.
Perhaps most exciting for Uhl is the prospect of a public-private partnership in which the goats kept at Edgewood Park might be deployed at other locations in the city and Greater New Haven area parks.
Uhl makes a point of visiting the goats at least once a week. He said he appreciates their contribution not only to getting rid of the invasives, but to bringing the community together. He has no set date yet for when the goats will depart the park, but is looking at some time in September or October.