For a week in late October, goats grazed on a broad hill in High School Park in Elkins Park, a stone’s throw from Philadelphia. Friends of High School Park, which has been taking care of the park since 1995 when a fire destroyed abandoned buildings that were once Cheltenham High School, organized the event with the Philly Goat Project.
The Philly Goat Project is based out of Awbury Arboretum in Mount Airy. Created in 2018, the Philly Goat Project has blazed a trail over its first two years, boasting that they have “engaged over 100,000 people in goat-centered activities.”
“The Philly Goat Project is an urban agricultural nonprofit organization that focuses on bringing experiences to people that might not otherwise have the opportunity,” explains Vita Giannetti, a program coordinator for the project. For the week of October 22 to October 29, five goats were brought in “to graze on a large patch of invasive weeds.” And graze they did.
Goats are built for clearing brush, weeds and roughage. According to the Philly Goat Project they are “able to eat up to 25% of their body weight per day in roughage. They specialize in leafy, overgrown vines, including poison ivy and can stand up on their hind legs to reach plants as high as 6 feet tall.” Grazing goats are a green alternative to weed wacking.
The Philly Goat Project normally offers their grazing services to private households. “This is the first time we’ve ever actually done it in a park,” Giannetti explains.
The goats’ occupation of the park was multifaceted. “We have like a two-pronged mission. It has to do with people, and it has to do with the ecology of the site,” says Julia Rix, a board member for Friends of High School Park. People have come to “talk to the goats, to play music for the goats [and] to watch the goats,” says Rix.
Friends of High School Park enlisted volunteers to work as goat-watchers for an hour at a time from sun-up to sundown. Rix says their volunteer form filled up within a matter of two days.
A volunteer named Rachel explains why she wanted to goat-watch, “I think they’re just lots of fun. They have a lot of personality.” Rachel brought her young son along to enjoy the unique experience, “We’ve just enjoyed watching them. We actually came the other day also to see them and it wasn’t even our time slot.”
Normally, High School Park relies on larger events to draw people and donations to the park, but the goats were a steady draw that proved to be pandemic-compatible..
In addition to the grazing, the Philly Goat Project provides a number of educational programs for Philadelphia youth, animal-assisted therapy and a plethora of events. “We try to focus a lot on sustainable education, getting people outside and getting them involved in nature,” says Giannetti.