No ‘kidding’: Aquinas welcomes goats to campus

Aquinas College

Aquinas College brings goats to campus for sustainable invasive species management

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — This summer, Aquinas College will welcome a group of “kids” to campus. The assignment is to tackle invasive species.

Fortunately, they have the perfect applicants: goats.

From July 17 through 23, there will be around 20 goats roaming certain areas of the 117-acres of wooded campus. A project three years in the making to combat invasive species and brush and remove the unwanted plants in a sustainably.

“Sustainability is part of Aquinas College’s identity, and we wanted to find an eco-friendly way to handle undesired growth on campus while being good stewards of our campus and our creek,” said Jessica Eimer Bowen, director of sustainability. “This project uses sustainable landscape management as an alternative to the use of herbicides and equipment that uses fossil fuels and pollutes the air.”

Getting the goats to campus wasn’t as simple as it sounds. The city of Grand Rapids has an ordinance that prohibits livestock. Bowen teamed up with the Grand Rapids Urban Agriculture Committee, who advocated for the temporary use of goats to use this as a pilot project that could inform future regulations.

“This project would not be possible without the help of the Urban Agriculture Committee,” Bowen said. “Although this method of invasive species control has been used in other areas of Michigan, it is new for our local area. Over the past three years, we have worked through all of the details with the committee to obtain approval from the City of Grand Rapids for this exciting, forward-thinking project.”

The Grand Rapids Urban Agriculture Committee is a group made up of 11 residents and local leaders, with two vacancies. Their objectives are to educate the public about the benefits of urban agriculture in Grand Rapids and provide their knowledge to policymakers about the development of urban food production infrastructure, policies that involve urban agriculture and planning, and city efforts to promote health, nutrition, food production, food access, and agricultural economics.

“We’re grateful that Aquinas brought this need to us and that the City agreed to the pilot project,” said Joan Huyser-Honig, chair of the Grand Rapids Urban Agriculture Committee. “Our committee looks at what helps or prevents people from growing, raising, selling and harvesting food within Grand Rapids city limits. Based on extensive research and review of national best practices, we’ve submitted recommendations for the City to incorporate into its rules and ordinances. These recommendations apply to accessory structures (such as greenhouses and hoop houses), backyard chickens, backyard livestock, bees, composting, edible landscaping, and farm stands.”

This style of sustainability has been used in other cities and campuses across Michigan and the United States. The goats prefer to eat invasive plants and they do a great job at removing them because they pull from the root. The seeds are then destroyed in their digestive systems which means they won’t regrow from the animals’ manure.

The herd will work in two areas of campus: the wooded area in front of the Academic Building and the wooded area between Our Lady Seat of Wisdom Chapel and the Theatre Arts Annex, along the Coldbrook Creek. They can clear around a quarter of an acre in three days. Which means by the time they graduate from AQ the goats could leave their mark on almost 10 acres.

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