The outgrowth of Cleveland's efforts to 're-imagine' vacant land beginning in 2007 has been a breeding ground for good old fashioned American self sufficiency. ReImagine has produced a steady stream of ideas-many won't ever leave the urban designer's sketch pad, but they're some of the boldest we've seen in years. They stretch from keeping in place a demolished home's masonry foundation and water lines for 'biocellars' to the city's more concrete (and market driven) decision to allow home owners to raise backyard chickens and bees. Cleveland can boast, if we haven't tried it yet, we've probably thought about it.
The hardscrabble urban farmers who were given a helping hand from ReImagine a More Sustainable Cleveland epitomize the promise of enterprise leading to a thousand ideas in the course of finding a few winners. We're starting to see some ideas take root, from the big-institution backed Evergreen Co-op greenhouse to the vivid struggles of Justin Husher to turn a profit on his city farm to this week's wildly experimental MowGoats.
For the next 25 days, we are all witnesses to four goats on loan from a farm in Geneva who will try to chomp into submission the weedy grass growing on six vacant residential lots. It's another Cleveland first.
In the days when nearby Walworth Run ran red from the butcher blocks in this near west side neighborhood known as Stockyards, Clover, Buffy, Rosie and Princess would've been looking nervously over their shoulders. Instead the "crew" of goats are munching placidly on some clover, plantain and fescue going to seed on a vacant lot at West 61st and Frontier. Dubbed the MowGoats, the four grass-powered lawn mowers are being rented by local non-profit community groups who are testing "green" alternatives to a city-wide issue-the growth in vacant lots after condemned houses come down. Cleveland pays $3 million annually to cut lawns on vacant lots.
If goats can play a part in lowering that number, are they a better option? Are goats going to run amok of the unions? Could they replace some emissions (or do they come with their own set of emissions from Methane? Which is better for the environment?) These questions and more are being worked out in Cleveland thanks to this and a herd of sheep trimming the verge on a large vacant commercial lot in the St. Clair -Superior area. In case you were wondering about replacing your mower, it's estimated that four goats can "mow" a standard lot in 2 1/2 days.