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City Grazing: Land Management Powered by Goats

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
July 27, 2023 3:02 am

City Grazing: Land Management Powered by Goats

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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July 27, 2023 3:02 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, Genevieve Church, the third "Goat Lady of San Francisco", is executive director of City Grazing. Listen to her share about how this land management and fire prevention non-profit came to be. 

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Say free this week into your Xfinity voice remote. And we continue with our American stories. Up next, you'll meet Genevieve Church. Genevieve runs a very unique business in San Francisco. That is City Grazing. City Grazing is a sustainable land management organization powered by goats. Here's Genevieve to tell us about how the business came to be and also the history of goats in San Francisco, beginning with Estelle West, the first goat lady. Goats in San Francisco have a long history and women raising goats in San Francisco.

There is a long history. Estelle West was raising goats and, you know, she was at a time when having livestock for meat, for milk was relatively common still in the Bay Area. But she was one of the last people who was actually in San Francisco proper raising her animals and making her living from them. San Francisco was busily becoming a city and didn't want livestock within city limits anymore.

Estelle West was quite a character, apparently, and loved to flout authority. And she just wanted to keep raising goats the way her family had been. And so she was a mild criminal, shall we say, in keeping her goats in places where the city didn't really want goats kept. After her, this very sweet woman that I met who was the second goat lady of San Francisco, she had been raising goats on Portrayo Hill, which was a little bit less of a settled area in San Francisco. When she was a kid, her family had about five or six goats, sometimes as many as 15.

They didn't have as large of a herd and they were not dependent on them for their income, but they were a part of their family's income stream. And when the city was laying the first sidewalks in Portrayo Hill, the goats got out and ran across the newly laid cement and left goat hoofmarks in San Francisco's first sidewalk in Portrayo Hill. She got in a lot of trouble. They made her family get rid of their goats.

I met her when she was in her 80s. And so I'm really happy to get to carry on the tradition of livestock in San Francisco and goats in San Francisco. And of course, it's also an honor to get to be the third crazy goat lady of San Francisco. I'm the executive director of City Grazing. We are the last local herd of working animals in the city. We actually take in retired dairy goats and we give them kind of a second lease on life.

All they have to do for us is eat for a living. So they go out, they eat a lot of the brush that's unwanted, a lot of the invasive vegetation that we have, and both reduce fire hazard and improve the health of some of our small local forests in San Francisco. City Grazing was started as a little bit of just a fun side project by a man named David Gavrich, who owned a industrial waste management company. And he thought it would be a fun way to advertise their commitment to green methods and to keeping their waste processing very clean by having a herd of goats that actually lived on site next door to the Waste Processing Center. It's pretty common in California to see goats grazing on the side of the freeways. So there are a few different companies in California that do large-scale goat grazing. These are companies that have 1,000 animals or up to 4,000 animals and graze in really big areas.

Alongside like chevrons processing plants, alongside the freeways, alongside some of the wind farms and solar farms in California. These are really common companies that use grazing animals to keep their fire hazard down. And David saw that, thought it would be a lot of fun to do them on a small scale in the city. So he started with just a few goats, didn't really think much about how goats multiply, ended up pretty quickly having 40 goats and at that point was renting them out. He was renting them to backyards and that was in 2008 that he got started.

I came on board in 2012. I answered a very random Craigslist ad. I had just moved back into San Francisco, was looking for a new career and found a very unusual ad that said, write us a paragraph, tell us why you're qualified to take care of our 40 goats in Bayview while our current goat herd goes home on vacation for six weeks. And I thought, no one has 40 goats in Bayview.

Bayview is an industrial part of the city. And I was just like, I have to see this. I grew up on a cattle ranch. I'd been around animals most of my childhood and I never really thought I'd work with them again.

So I randomly answered this ad and we just kind of hit it off. David and I got along very well. The goats definitely needed more care than they were getting at that time.

He just had one of the employees from the rail yard who was taking care of them. So I just kind of never left. And in 2015, I took over management. In 2017, we converted to a nonprofit and that's really allowed us to open up who we work with and what we do. It lets us adopt animals rather than purchasing or breeding. It lets us have more work with municipalities, with schools, with universities. It also allows us to be a little bit more proactive in our hiring policies. So we really strive to give work to people who are from our underserved neighborhoods in San Francisco.

So it's opened a lot of doors for us. What we do is specialize in strips of undeveloped land and San Francisco has a lot of that. There's a lot of back hillsides or park areas that haven't been landscaped and that's where we come in. And then also just backyards.

We do a fair amount of backyards. It's a lot of fun to bring somebody five goats to spend a week in their yard and let their family interact and see what that's like. And most of our goats are really friendly. They love people. They're easy to hang out with. And you wouldn't necessarily want to keep them forever, but they're a lot of fun for a week. The community loves the goats.

Absolutely loves them. From being completely startled to see a goat, you know, we get the why are there goats here questions from passersby. We get kids who've never seen a goat before and do not know what they are and say, Mommy, what's wrong with that dog?

Or is that a donkey? That was my favorite question that I've ever gotten. The goats have a lot of fans. And so we always publicize if we're at a location where the public can come and view the grazing. And that is just an amazing side benefit of what we do. It's really great to be able to give back to the planet. It's great to be able to contribute to the health of trees. Because a lot of what the goats eat is the Himalayan blackberry, which is an invasive here, and a few different forms of ivy. So it's a lot of our work is taking care of those two plants to keep the trees in some of our parks like the Presidio, UCSF Mount Sutro. These are a couple of the larger parks in San Francisco that we do a lot of work for. It's really about tree health. It's also about fire hazard reduction. But a huge part, especially in the last few years, people were just looking for anything that they could do outside with their kids. Like, how do we get out of the house? And you can always come visit the goats, right?

So it's just so much fun to give people that kind of outlet. And it's not just people with their kids. We've got dog walkers who bring their dogs. The dogs are fascinated. They've never seen goats before either.

These are city dogs, right? They do not know what livestock is. So they have a lot of fun. And the goats are so funny.

They're very used to the urban environment. Goats are such adaptive animals. You wouldn't put a horse or a cow or a sheep in some of the situations that we very happily put our goats. The goats are just like, oh, yeah, OK, is this the new place we're staying for a week?

Cool. And they'll interact with the people. They'll interact with dogs. They get bored if they're in one location, as anyone who has goats can tell you.

Goats get very bored and they will start trying to break out. They love to explore new space. They love new vegetation. And so we find they have much better manners if we are moving them around pretty regularly and giving them new grounds to stomp on. Our mission is sustainable land management.

And that's really just about inspiring people to find creative solutions to the problems that we have. What we do is so beneficial, but it's really just goats being goats. It's a very elegant solution to the problem of overgrowth or fire hazard or invasive plants, because we put the goats on them and the goats don't do anything special. They just do what goats do.

They compete with each other for food and they have a great time doing it. And you're listening to Genevieve Church, the third crazy goat lady of San Francisco. More of her story here on Our American Stories. For each person living with myasthenia gravis, or MG, their journey with this rare neuromuscular condition is unique. That's why Untold Stories Life with myasthenia gravis, a new podcast from iHeartRadio in partnership with Argenics, is exploring the extraordinary challenges and personal triumphs of underserved communities living with MG. Host Martine Hackett will share powerful perspectives from people living with the debilitating muscle weakness and fatigue caused by this rare disorder. Each episode will uncover the reality of life with myasthenia gravis. From early signs and symptoms to obtaining an accurate diagnosis and finding care, every person with MG has a story to tell. And by featuring these real-life experiences, this podcast hopes to inspire the MG community, educate others about this rare condition, and let those living with it know that they are not alone. Listen to Untold Stories Life with myasthenia gravis on the iHeartRadio app, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts. Experience the power and design of the all-new, all-electric 2023 Nissan Ariya.

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Visit slash iHeart. And we return to our American stories and to Genevieve Church of City Grazing, the goat-powered land management and fire prevention organization in San Francisco. Let's pick up where she last left off. We have so many amazing goats, and they come to us from all over. As I said, most of our goats are retired dairy goats. Their milk production drops off, and it's hard on their bodies.

So it's really fun for us to be able to take those ladies in and retrain them. We take them in and just put them in basically that pasture and then leave them there for a week. And when they first come to us, they'll come to the fence every morning like, isn't someone supposed to do something with me now?

Don't I have to go somewhere? And we're like, no, just go eat with the rest of the goats. But we also, every year we try and adopt in some of the little orphan dairy boys. Dairy goats have to have a baby every year in order to keep giving milk.

The females go back into the dairy industry, but those males usually go into the meat industry. And we like to adopt a few of those in every year and raise them to be grazing goats. So those little guys, they're very social.

They've been hand raised by people. They really turn to us for all of their needs. They're so much fun to interact with.

They're really naturalized to people, and they have big personalities. But some of our other goats are rescue goats that have come from you name it, all different situations. And yes, all of our goats have names from Regina, the complaining dairy goat who never stops yelling at us.

We have Huck and Finn, who are a pair of twins. Another pair that we have is Curry and Stew. Their original owner raised them for food, but he bought them as babies and he loved them so much, he just fell in love with them and called us and kind of shamefacedly said, I can't eat my goats.

Can you take them for me? So we took them in. But my favorite two, they've actually both passed on now. Princess and Udo came to us. They didn't seem to know that they were goats. They were these enormous, enormous alpine goats, and they had been raised in someone's kitchen in Oakland. They'd been raised on people food.

They'd never grazed. They'd been eating breakfast cereal and apparently human food their whole lives. The lady who raised them was very eccentric. Her neighbors were complaining to the health department. She reached out to us and we were like, yeah, sure, we'll take them. So we went to get them and we didn't really think it through. We didn't understand that they, you know, other than going into her backyard, they really hadn't been outside.

She was keeping them in the house. So we had to teach them how to live outside. We had to teach them how to graze.

We had to expose them. They were adults. They were both quite large. And in the end, both of them took over the herd. Both of them were the alpha males in the herd. And we named Princess Princess because he was so high maintenance. I have to say, like that name wasn't really supposed to stick because he was the biggest white male goat with giant horns that you've ever seen. And it was just kind of an ironic name because he didn't know how to eat or take care of himself. He was such a princess. We had to wait on him hand and foot before he learned how to be a goat.

By the end, he was the king and he just ruled the entire herd. So those two probably are my favorite rescue story. But we have others. We have goats that came to us from 4-H. So there are 4-H kids that had raised them, didn't want them to end up being harvested.

So they donated them to us rather than sell them at the fair. One of them, though, he had a little accident. And this was before he came to us. He lost the tip of his ear.

And they decided he couldn't be shown as breeding stock, which was the intention when he was raised. His name is Dipper. Dipper looks like a small rhinoceros without horns. He's the most muscular goat I've ever seen. He has giant, thick legs and huge feet and a giant head. He looks like he could knock all the other goats down.

But he's the ultimate in gentle giant. He doesn't know he's strong. He doesn't know that he's just the burliest goat ever. And he stands off to the side and lets all the other goats eat first.

And we have to keep him in with the old ladies because he does not understand his own strength. So they come to us with such cute personalities and individual natures. Goats love salt. They have a very high need for salt in their diet. And so when you see a goat licking the inside of a tin can, which, yes, that stereotype is an accurate one, goats will pick up tin cans that have had food in them and they will carry them around. They actually can't eat them. They are trying to lick out whatever was inside that can, if there's any residue of salt. A chip bag, you know, what's the most common piece of litter that you see anywhere?

It's a Doritos bag. They will take them in their mouth. They will chew on them and chew on them and chew on them the way we chew gum. And then they'll spit them out because they're just trying to suck all that salt off of the inside. So that's kind of where goats get that reputation from. So it's like, why did they chew on plastic?

We finally, I think it was a vet who was like, oh, it's the salt. They love roses and they love blackberries. Blackberries, that's great because it's a massive problem in California. We have Himalayan blackberry growing all over the West Coast and it's a terrible invasive plant. The roses, not so much.

Nobody really wants the goats to come in and eat their prize rose collection. So we do have to, you know, we're really intense about our fencing to make sure that that doesn't happen. Homeowners associations in the Bay Area tend to, I don't know why, but they almost all have one giant inaccessible hillside that periodically needs to have something done about the fire danger. And we love doing it. City Grazing gets about 60% of our income from our grazing work. But the other 40% of our income comes from donations and we really rely heavily on that.

We have a really amazing team of employees. We are out there setting fencing, clearing paths. San Francisco is big in terms of population and small in terms of acreage.

It's a tiny little city that is jam packed. So we have to build really nice fences every time we take the goats anywhere to make sure that they stay enclosed, stay safe, and make sure everyone in the situation is contained. We also have a box truck that we converted to a mobile barn.

But it's essentially just like any U-Haul that you'd use to move. We pull out the ramp, the goats run in the ramp or run out the ramp. But it's really kind of hilarious to check out the goats getting in and out of the truck.

It's not what you'd expect. But it's definitely been one of our best innovations. Funny stories, we have staged goat yoga. If you missed your chance at the goat yoga trend when that was a thing, don't worry about it. Because what you really missed out on was probably getting peed on by a baby goat. That's what we don't tell you when we sell you the ticket. But it was a fundraiser that we did for a while. Some of the other crazy stuff that we've done, we have pranked a groom at a wedding. His in-laws hired us to bring goats to the wedding reception. And to bring them out behind the groom while the father of the bride was making his toast. And we didn't know this.

They didn't tell us. I don't think they loved their son-in-law very much. He was terrified of goats. So it was just a scene. It was hilarious for everyone there except for the groom. So we've taken goats to nightclub openings.

Not inside, outside, so their ears wouldn't get any damage. We've done a really great promotion years and years in a row. We did about five of these called Goat My Valentine. Where we would bring goats and stage a photo shoot so that you could come up with your sweetheart. And take a photo with the goats and get cuddly with our baby goats on Valentine's Day.

That was a really fun one that we did. So people love goats, it's true. And they're a lot of fun. We love them. All of us at City Grazing, we smell terrible at the end of the day.

But we love our job. And a great job on the storytelling and production by Madison. And a special thanks to Genevieve Church, Executive Director of City Grazing.

My goodness, I love some of the names. Huck and Finn, Regina the complaining dairy goat. And Princess and Udo, enormous alpine goats who never grazed in their lives. They were raised on human food in a house. The story of City Grazing, which started as a fun side project.

But now takes care of fire prevention and so much more in the city of San Francisco. Here on Our American Stories. Our American Stories. slash now. Major League Baseball trademarks used with permission.

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Whisper: medium.en / 2023-07-27 04:47:07 / 2023-07-27 04:56:33 / 9

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