Last Friday, officials from Detroit’s Animal Control gave the boot to eighteen goats, which were brought in to aid in clearing vacant lots in the Brightmoor neighborhood. The goats arrived Thursday from Idyll Farms in Northport, which is owned by Mark Spitznagel, president of Universa Investments. A project on which people spent over a year organizing (a neighborhood resident was even being trained as a goatherd) got cut down in a day.
However, the project never received permission from the city. City ordinance 6-1-3 explicitly prohibits farm or wild animals in the city, unless it’s a zoo or a circus. As far as we can tell, there are two obvious solutions: Let neighborhood kids pet the goats as they graze and call it a travelling petting zoo. Or, teach the goats tricks like balancing a beach ball on their nose or tightrope walking and call it a circus.
Per the city’s order, proceeds from the sale of the goats will go to the neighborhood’s non-profits. The residents of Brightmoor have already established numerous community gardens and programs to clean up the area. The goat farm was another idea to provide a service that the city of Detroit could not.
The block on which the farm was to be kept had only one house left standing and it was abandoned. It would seem that a vacant city block would be an adequate place for the herd to live, as long as competent people are left responsible for the wellness of the animals. Besides, it’s not like the city is utilizing the land in a useful way and the goats would have access to all the grass their tiny goat brains could dream of.
On Friday, many residents visited the farm to express their support, including Alexis Hendricks who commented, “This is the kind of great idea this neighborhood needs. Look around here; this is more farmland than city.” Leonard Pollara, who consulted on the project, described it as, “a philanthropic effort.” In 2013, Councilman James Tate, who represents Brightmoor, proposed a bill that would allow the use of sheep and goats to clear unkempt parcels of land, but it has not passed.
There seems to be enough support behind projects like this, which aim to reduce blight and clean up Detroit. However, like in the case of the grazing goats, there is almost always red tape. Perhaps city ordinances like 6-1-3, need to be retrofitted for the current needs of Detroit in order for projects like these to be effective.