Goats clear weeds, brambles and tall grass. (Photo by Vita Giannetti)

By Diane Fiske

For the past two years, in Northwest Philadelphia, goats have been hired to accomplish landscape architecture particularly for homeowners whose property is uneven and full of undesirable plants such as poison ivy, brambles or weeds.

One of the first goat enthusiasts last year was sociologist Anne Esacove, who discovered that there was no way she could hire a teenager to mow her bumpy east Chestnut Hill property.

Her lawn was covered with holes, poison ivy and other deterrents to the usual mowing kids contracted for lawn maintenance with hours of their summer to fill.

So the sociology professor and University of Pennsylvania scholar hired goats from the Philly Goat Project to do the job.

She said that she was very happy with the results. The goats did a good job and she was “delighted” she hired them.

Another northwest Philadelphia resident, Lindsey Hanes, who moved to Philadelphia last year from Manhattan, had no idea how to mow her half acre property on Vaux Street that sloped from west to east. The slope was steep and in the mix was a bunch of holes as well as poison ivy.

Hanes visited Awbury Arboretum in Germantown and saw the goats in their barn and thought the animals could mow the poison ivy and fix other problems on the lawn of her new home located on a very steep site.

There was an extra benefit.

“If you want to meet neighbors, hiring goats is a great way to get to know people.” Lindsey said. “During the process, for about half a day, neighbors were all gathered around watching the goats do their job.”

She added the goat project and the people handling the goats were very nice and she enjoyed the process even though the goats balked at eating some of the ivy.

The goats seem to have enjoyed their meal that was about half the ivy at the Hanes. In the end, Lindsey was assured that the growth won’t come back and she wouldn’t need to hire the goats again for the part of the lawn the goats didn’t find appetizing.

Employing the goats does not seem to be geared towards residential service alone.

Rebecca Aergott, who lives in Logan Square is part of a small neighborhood group that formed a committee to take care of a piece of land leading from I-76.

 The group visited Awbury Arboretum in Germantown last year and saw the goats in their barn.

 “We got permission to improve this tiny patch of land and noticed there was poison ivy throughout the surface,” Aergott said.

The committee contacted various gardeners and services and the goats were recommended as a way to remove poison ivy and work in an irregular surface.

So in August last year, Aergott said, “We had a goat party and set the nine goats to work with their handlers.”

Aergott said she liked the fact that the goats were, in fact, “organic weed killers.”

She said the project cost the committee $1,000 for five hours of work by the goats and their handlers.

Behind the “The Philly Goat Project, is Karen Krivit the director who started the project two years ago. She is a former social worker who got a grant to start the project in Awbury Arboretum at 6336 Ardleigh Avenue with three goats. She was helped by her daughter, Lily Sage.

Krivit got a grant from the Department of Agriculture and assistance building the barn from the Awbury staff.

With a background in therapy for people with special needs, Krivit utilized her own education to train and recruit people with special needs who work with the project and assist in the handling of the goats who now number 14.

 She said, “We train our workers to be careful to avoid plants, such as Azaleas, that could be deadly to the goats and we make sure our staff know all lawns are not safe.”

One of the benefits, she said, “of working with the goats is good therapy for our handlers.”

 She said mowing a quarter of an acre varies in cost, but the cost can be $350 to $500 for the project depending upon the area to be mowed and the number of goats needed. She said customers come from the entire Northwest Philadelphia area.

“We would love to go to more localities, but we cannot move our goats and do not have the transportation,” Krivit said.

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