Spring cleaning at The Goat Girls farm in Amherst means free fertilizer, if you’re willing to shovel it yourself

Last modified: Tuesday, April 21, 2015

AMHERST — For The Goat Girls, a landscaping operation that rents out goats to eat homeowners’ brush, this weekend’s spring weather meant it was time to clean out the goat barn after the long winter.

It’s tough work, and probably not most people’s idea of a good way to spend a sunny 70-degree day. But owner Hope Crolius was able to lure a few members of the public to help out Saturday by posting an offer at the local garden store, on Craigslist and in the newspaper: If you pitch in, you can take as much manure as you want.

It’s like pick-your-own, except instead of berries, you get a fertilizer that Crolius said can be applied to gardens — without needing to be composted — to provide nitrogen and other nutrients.

Seven people took her up on the offer, showing up at the small goat barn at 132 Pelham Road with pitchforks and buckets to work alongside The Goat Girls employees and volunteers.

Michael Mango, 25, wearing work gloves and a sheen of sweat, loaded manure by the pitchforkful onto a tarp in the back of a Honda Element.

“I’m going to do another load after this,” he said.

He was taking it to spread on a small plot of land at the Amethyst Brook Conservation Area where he is planting his first vegetable crops for the season.

A junior in the sustainable food and farming program at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Mango heard about the work-for-manure swap when he visited the goat farm with a class last Tuesday. “They needed some help and I needed some manure, so it sounded like a really great win-win for everyone,” he said.

For some dedicated gardeners, going to horse, dairy or other livestock farms to shovel their own manure isn’t a novel idea.

As they loaded a few buckets of composted goat-manure into their car, Gayle and Scott Barton of Pelham explained that they have been gardening for 40 years and always supplement their own food-scrap compost with manure.

“So for us, it’s not a new thing,” Gayle Barton said. But, she added, “it’s fun to see other people get involved, fun to see the excitement around it.”

In recent years, the movement to support local farms has taken off in the Pioneer Valley. The owners of several area Community Supported Agriculture farms say that their shareholders like feeling that they have a stake in the operation.

In the case of The Goat Girls barn cleaning day, that stake isn’t a financial one — Crolius calls it “sweat equity.” But she says people like helping a local operation, and getting some rich fertilizer to boot.

Crolius, who also owns Artemis Garden Consultants, started The Goat Girls in 2010 when she purchased three goats to clear the brush and weeds from a client’s yard. She started getting calls to rent them out to other landowners, and the business grew. Now, on land she rents from Amethyst Farm, she has 18 goats, a barn manager, an outreach assistant and several interns and volunteers.

Crolius has offered the shovel-your-own manure deal to her clients for the last few years, but this is the first year she opened it up to the public.

“I don’t see the community pouring in, but I do see a few people who are dedicated — and the day is young,” Crolius said while taking a break from the shoveling Saturday morning. Throughout the spring, people also will buy the goat manure by appointment for $1 a bucket.

Her customers like the idea of a fertilizer that is safe for the environment and comes from just down the road, she said. “I think there is something so darn satisfying about knowing that the food you’re eating was fertilized with the manure of your local goat herd,” she said. “It’s so much more satisfying than getting a bag of fertilizer that says, ‘made in China.’ ”

Ellen Chechile, who lives a few doors down from the land Crolius rents for her goats, said taking home quality fertilizer for her perennial flower garden was only part of her motivation for being at the barn Saturday.

“Primarily, I just wanted to help with the goats,” Chechile said, and lend The Goat Girls’ workers a hand. “They do a great job and it’s a system I want to support as much as possible.”

Another draw is that the friendly, dog-like goats are so popular, Crolius said. When she puts out a call for people to drop off their leaves in the fall or their Christmas trees in the winter, customers and total strangers are all too happy to oblige, she said.

The dry leaves make great bedding, Crolius said. The goats strip the trees, eating the needles, tips of branches and even the bark.

They are taking something that seems like waste and making it useful, she said.

“It’s a really great feeling to use something that would be a quote, unquote waste product.”

Rebecca Everett can be reached at reverett@gazettenet.com.


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