A hedge fund manager’s scheme to clean up and revitalize Detroit with the aid of a tribe of young male goats doing what they do best, acting as nature’s most adorable lawnmowers, has been put to an end by city officials. Apparently, even a well-meaning multi-millionaire with a truckload of goats and a vision to promote self-sufficiency through urban farming also has to play by the rules as grazing animals on city property are strictly prohibited.

As reported by the New York Times, investor, author, and award-winning fromagere Mark Spitznagel’s caprine “guerilla farming” initiative in northwest Detroit’s vacant lot-ridden Brightmoor — aka “Blightmoor” — neighborhood was quickly shut down after city brass learned that goats were indeed grazing without permission.

The Times itself may be at fault for the swift action taken against Spitznagel by the city.

When first writing about the “urban farming experiment” in an article published on June 5 titled "Fund Manager Sets Goats Grazing in Blighted Detroit," reporter Alexandra Stevenson called Mayor Mike Duggan’s office, at the time completely unaware of the ruminant residency taking place in Brightmoor, seeking comment. “I have never heard of such a thing,” responded Duggan’s spokeswoman Linda Vinyard, noting that Spitznagel “will have to deal with authorities.”


The operation was shut down the next day and all 18 of Spitznagel’s goats were relieved of their duties and trucked back to his 200-acre farmstead and creamery, Idyll Farms, in the bucolic Northern Michigan village of Northport. The Times prematurely spoiling the party aside, you do have to wonder how long Spitznagel — and his goats — would have been able to fly under the radar without city officials stepping in.

Although there was hope that the hardworking wethers would receive a reprieve and be allowed to return to Brightmoor after Spitznagel cleared things up with and got a proper green light from the powers that be, it would appear that the so-called Idyll Farms Detroit project is still a no-go after a meeting with Spitznagel and city officials went sour earlier this week.

The goats, which would have spent the summer merrily munching away on towering weeds and vegetation on vacant lots, delighting neighborhood kids, and providing unemployed adults in the community with jobs as herders, will now be locally butchered, which, to be clear, was the plan at the conclusion of the summer. The proceeds from the sale of the cabrito would have benefitted the community.

Still, in a statement, Spitznagel offered a glimmer of hope: “The Brightmoor community believes in urban agriculture as a viable solution and they have the entrepreneurial energy that will survive ineffective bureaucratic rules.”

Ultimately, Spitznagel, an outspoken libertarian and supporter of Ron Paul, had planned to bring in even more goats and expand Idyll Farms Detroit to other blighted parts of the embattled and completely broke city.

It would appear that Spitznagel’s blight-erasing urban farming/goatscaping initiative failed simply because, well, he just kind of showed up with a bunch of grazing animals and expected the city to be copasetic with it. To be clear, Spitznagel and his team did engage local community associations and garnered an enthusiastic and supportive response from Brightmoor leaders and residents — they just kind of skipped over the whole formal permission from the city part.

The Detroit Free Press notes that Idyll Farms consultant Leonard Pollara isn't "upset with officials" for evicting the goats and "takes full responsibility for not having a firm handle on the city's ordinance."

Detroit Councilman James Tate, who has been working with the city to craft an ordinance that would allow for certain types of livestock to graze on abandoned property, explains to the Times: "I’m huge on animal husbandry for neighborhoods with high vacancy rates. I’m not as supportive of all of a sudden crafting something that works for one group. We can’t just say we’ll give him some reprieve without slamming the door on all these folks who have been working on this for years."

Via [New York Times]

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Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

Overgrown lot-munching goats given the boot in Detroit
An urban farming project in the down-and-out Brightmoor neighborhood is cut extremely short after officials learn it involves unlawful ruminants.