I was able to escape the cold fogginess of this San Francisco summer, and head over to the East Bay this weekend. After a long meeting in Berkeley, I visited some old friends in Oakland, and after a quick garden visit, we were able to take a walk and see the goats grazing in the hills, a loose annual pilgrimage.
As we walked up onto the ridge, the scene before us looked like it could have been from Jerusalem, or somewhere in the Mediterranean in not too distant times. The huge city panorama in the background didn’t quite fit, though. The goats were peppered up and down the hillside, and there was an assortment of colors with many kids. I’ve seen this a few times, and it never fails to lift my heart.
The city has been paying for the goats to graze to reduce fire damage for a few years. It looked like there were remnants of thistle and fennel and tons of dry, dry grasses on the hillside, but it was almost completely razed. This blog from the New York Times talks about how it started.
The goats are provided by a company called Ecosystem Concepts, which is run by Debrann Brea McGrew, a veterinarian, and her husband Robert, a retired firefighter. The Times interviewed McGrew.
If there’s big, tall grass and the trees are bending down and the branches are on the ground – that’s a huge fire problem because fire goes from ground into trees. Once the fire goes into the trees, you’re in big trouble.
Goats will eat that canopy. They’ll lift that canopy about 6 feet. There’s not another species that will do that in a city. Sheep aren’t going to eat the trees. I guess you could bring in a giraffe. Goats can be herded and they’re smart, so you can train them. They’re easy to move; sometimes we even walk them from one place to another.
I fell in love with this kid with a ridge running down his back. I have always loved goats, but have never kept them. One day perhaps I will, though I don’t think I have enough space now. My grandfather was a shepherd as a boy in Cyprus.
Here’s a Time magazine slideshow about Novella Carpenter raising goats outside her apartment in Oakland. She doesn’t have that much more space than I do!