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Coming Soon to Austin Parks: Brush-Clearing Goats?

The Sustainable Food Center's East Austin farmer's markethad a perennially irritating problem: Poison ivy was blocking a portion of the market's space. They couldn't use chemicals or herbicides — it wouldn't exactly jive with their goal of sustainability. 

So they got creative, turning to a four-legged, environmentally (and people) friendly alternative: Goats.

Now, Austin parks may be looking to adopt the strategy to beautify green spaces across the city, as well.

As it turns out, goats lack the allergy that afflicts so many, and for the past month they've been tackling the rash of poison ivy at the SFC East Market.

"We keep the market away from the area with the poison ivy, even though that's the spot where we'd really like to have the market," says Michael Hanan, an operations manager with SFC. "So it's kind of keeping us away from the ideal spot, but that should hopefully be taken care of shortly."

For the past month, every Wednesday, anywhere from four to 10 goats from Swede Farm come in to clear the area, with handlers fencing them in areas to concentrate on the ivy. Hanan says he approached Swede, who had previously used their goats to clean up poison ivy on their farm and on neighbors' properties and in Waller, just outside of Houston. 

While the goats are doing their darnedest to clean up the ivy, Hanan says they'll still be needed for another month. 

After the month is over, the goats will get a brief respite, but Eric Courchesne of Austin Parks Foundation says the foundation wants to hire the goats to possibly clear parks all over the city — starting with a pilot program beginning next month in which they'll clear poison ivy at Armadillo Park.

"We're essentially trying to displace the use of gas powered mowers and chemical pesticides," Courchesne says. "After the pilot project our hope is to expand beyond just the control of ivy and to do land clearing, larger swaths of land." 

The pilot program will be funded by the Parks Foundation, but Courchesne says the city's Parks and Recreation Department is very interested in implementing the program.

"The senior staff there is very excited about this project," Courchesne says. "They're keen on us trying this out. Certainly, it's an experiment for us. We've never done this in this city before — using goats on public land. It's thousands of years old technology, but for us it's new. We're going to start small and scale it up from there if we're successful."

Andrew Weber is a general assignment reporter for KUT, focusing on criminal justice, policing, courts and homelessness in Austin and Travis County. Got a tip? You can email him at Follow him on Twitter @England_Weber.
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