Last month, thanks to an anonymous West Indian woman who put the idea in our heads, we undertook an experiment in urban goatscaping in Stuyvesant Cove Park. It was a resounding success- the goats did a great job and everyone loved them- and also a unique experience for Candace Thompson, the new Park Manager. Here’s her description of what it was like to spend three days and two nights as an onsite goatherd in Stuy Cove Park:
For 3 straight days, 20 goats and I did heavy “goatscaping”, and for 2 nights we slept together… under the FDR… in lower Manhattan…during a global pandemic.
It was a week for the bucket list, to be sure.
If you’re unfamiliar, goatscaping is an ancient land clearing practice in which humans allow goats to do what they do best: eat. When they’re done you’re left with a weed free, well fertilized growing space with no gas-powered machines or herbicides needed. So, last month Caramelo, Chloe, Cheech and co were let loose inside SCP’s teaching garden and given carte blanche, and while they munched, volunteers pulled weeds from other areas of the park and carried them over to their enclosure. One little girl accurately described it as “goat room service”.
When I awoke in the middle of the night to check on them they’d still be standing there, chewing away. They, too, knew this was the city that never sleeps.
When they were done I was left with a bare .14 acre space where I’ll be doing some permacultural and educational projects in the coming year. With only one more growing season to go in the park before the ESCR comes through I see this as a potent moment for meaning making, community building and education. I want to raise Stuy Cove’s visibility as a native food forest and place our agroforestry work in the context of the myriad ecological and social crises we currently face. Goats may just seem like a fun attraction, but they are also a conversation starter about what the future of land stewardship can look like.
As I laid down to sleep that first night with Skittles nibbling oak leaves next to me I mused on the words we use to describe human managed landscapes. A park denotes recreation: frisbee and picnics. A garden suggests passive spectatorship; admiring flowers from a respectable distance or growing a tomato for individual enjoyment. A farm suggests large scale food production while a forest indicates non-human ecosystem services. Perhaps these concepts are too narrow; outmoded partitions in a time of climate crisis. It is my hope that as Stuy Cove evolves and adapts for the future, this 2 acre parcel of manmade land can blur these lines and become something more: a model for how we renew our interdependence with the natural world. I hope to see you in the park sometime soon so we can get started building the just and sustainable future our grandchildren deserve.
Thanks to everyone who helped make this happen by contributing to our GoatFundMe (donations are now closed), thanks to Green Goats of Rhinebeck, and hopefully we’ll do some more goatscaping in the future!