By Corey Farrenkopf, Librarian at Eastham Public Library
When we think about sustainable landscaping at libraries, our minds often go to rain gardens, pollinator gardens, educational gardens filled with native plants, and community vegetable gardens. But how often do we think about sustainable landscape maintenance? Most town-run libraries have their grounds taken care of by the town’s highway department. They hustle in and mow and weed whack once a week and they’re on their way. While they do a good job, all of their tools and machinery burn fossil fuels, which isn’t great. In America, “it takes about 800 million gallons of gasoline annually, with 17 million additional gallons spilled” to maintain public and private landscaping needs (Jiahn Sohn, Princeton). And small engines, like those found on lawn mowers and weed whackers create staggeringly high emissions as compared to cars and trucks, which also isn’t great…but you know what landscaping tools don’t require gasoline to take care of your invasive plants and maintain your grounds?
The answer, of course, is Goats!!!
A recent trend in sustainable landscaping is to hire a team of goats to munch on all of your unwanted plants. Whether it be poison ivy, or knotweed, or saplings growing where they shouldn’t, the goats will devour them in a nice, leisurely manner. The knotweed, in particular, is a particularly interesting case. It’s become one of the hardest to manage invasives sweeping our peninsula. In an article titled, “Knotweed Dispensary,” Connecticut College had this to say about the issue, “While most plants reproduce by a scattering of their seeds, new knotweed plants crop up from pieces of other plants that have broken free and established roots. Their greatest foe, then, may well be the bearded, bleating weed-whacking goats that find the knotweed so delicious.”
Does your library have a knotweed problem? Call the goats!
Most Goat-scaping companies set up a parameter of electric fencing to keep the goats where they need to be and to guide in their daily meal plans. It’s how they target your unwanted green nemeses. The goats reside within the fence for however long they need, sleeping beneath little tents the farmers set up to provide shade and comfort. Their clean water is refilled daily and supplemental food is given when needed.
Recently at the Eastham Library, we had Goat Green Cape Cod bring in a team of goats to take care of the overgrown edge separating the library from the forest that leads down to Depot Pond. This space had become swamped with poison ivy and brambles, encroaching on our rear lawn, which we use for programming space. The last thing you want when you’re having outdoor story time is for a toddler to toddle off into a thicket of poison ivy. Yikes.
Because we are so close to a protected wetland, we had to be creative with the management of the space, which is where the goats came in. The goats don’t harm the local ecosystem. They don’t put harsh chemicals into the ground. They don’t pollute the air with their small engines. They just laze around and nibble at a little of this and a little of that until they’re ready to move on.
Beyond the fact that they are great at managing unwanted growth, they are also a great patron draw to the library. Over the two weeks the goats were with us, we had countless people stop by simply to check out the animals, many who’d never been to the library before and had heard there were goats hanging out.
Come for the goats, stay for the books and digital resources, right?
Our director, Melanie McKenzie, had to first work with our Gardening Volunteers, local conservation committee, and town governing boards to get approval for the project. This is what she had to say about the experience, “I got the idea to bring goats to the library from our library gardening volunteers. They do amazing work keeping our grounds looking wonderful and welcoming. One of their challenges this spring was tackling the pesky poison ivy in our backyard that encroaches on the area where we do outdoor programming. They had the idea to bring goats onsight as a way to sustainably manage the overgrowth we had.
To get the process started, I reached out to the Town of Eastham's Conservation Agent and submitted an application for the project to be reviewed by the Conservation Committee. The application was straightward, asking the nature of the project and what the potential impact (environmental and otherwise) would be.Once my application was accepted, I was added to the agenda for an upcoming Conservation Committee meeting.
There I was able to explain the project to the Committee and answer all their questions before getting the final approval to move forward.Our Friends of the Eastham Library group sponsored this unique project. Many of our gardening volunteers are also members of the Friends of the Library, and the Friends love to sponsor public-facing projects like this one.
Community members were thrilled to have goats in the area, and we had many visitors stop by the library just to take a walk outside and see the goats. The community reception was so stellar, I think we would do this project again if the need arose.”
But remember, when the goats come to your library, don’t pet them. For one, no one wants an electric shock from the fence (it will be clearly labeled). But, you always have to remember they are slurping down loads and loads of poison ivy, and their fur is most likely covered in the oils. No one wants secondhand poison ivy!
So, next time you are looking at ways to become more sustainable with your library landscaping, think about the Goats! You won’t regret having farm animals hanging out in your backyard for a few weeks.