Friday, March 14, 2008

Goats and Permaculture

I suppose I really should split those two topics into two blog posts, especially given the reputation that goats have for eating all things garden related, but both are on mind, and so here they are today, on my blog.

First the goats. Why goats? Well, it starts with turkeys. Turkeys?! Stay with me here. For Christmas I purchased for my wife a book that I wanted to read, I mean, that I thought she would like to read. (OK, like you've never done that.) The book was (still is) Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver, who is one of my favorite living nonfiction writers. And this book was about a couple passions of mine: gardening, eating local, and heirloom varieties. I had always thought of heirloom varieties as plants, but Barbara and her family raised rare "heirloom" turkeys. Kathy and I (she really did like the book) discussed heirloom plants, and the topic ranged over to "if we had some land." If we did not live in the city, what livestock could we keep. Not cows (too big). Not pigs (too smelly). Maybe chickens (still smelly). Turkeys could be cool, when the kiddos can defend themselves. And then Kathy mentioned goats. Goats? Don't goats have horns and are mean? (OK, I admit it, my sum total knowledge of goats was from petting zoos and Saturday morning cartoons.) No, Kathy said, we could do dwarf goats and milk them, and make our own cheese. I decided to look them up on the internet and immediately came across a site with pictures of baby dwarf goats, and I was hooked. Since then I have bought two books, including The Year of the Goat, 40,000 miles and the quest for the perfect cheese by Margaret Hathaway, and our house will be going up for sale next week so we can buy a goat farm, I mean, shorten my commute and grow more vegetables - and goats.

Permaculture is a new word I only recently learned. My friend Eric, from Madison, WI, mentioned it off-hand the other day. He mentioned it in one of those ways like, "Can you believe so-n-so did not even know what permaculture is." Ha ha we both laughed. So I got some books from the library. Apparently it is a system of using ecological principles in designing gardens that combine flowers, native plants, and vegetables all in the same garden. Very good. Sounds like a good idea. But as I read on in Gaia's Garden by Toby Hemenway, I got increasingly annoyed. Toby seemed to have serious issues with the movement to plant large areas of lawn to native plants for wildlife. His critiques were many, but what annoyed me is that here we have two uber-progressive gardeners, one with native plants and vegetables, and one with only native plants, and the veggie guy just rips into the native plant guy. I mean, come on. Most Americans are still buying chemical fertilizer to make their lawn grass monoculture a more unnatural shade of green. We are allies, not enemies.

Maybe I am a little sensitive on the point since progressives in general seem determined to demonize those who are not pure feminist or pure civil rights. We should be celebrating the fact that half of the country can't decide between a black man and white woman. Similarly, we should celebrate native plants and sustainable vegetalbe gardening wherever they are found.


John Boy said...

If you ever need helping milking the goats, just call on your little brother. But please don't mind if I skim a little off the top. Thanks for the upbeat perspective in this post, it must be the springy weather we're having.

Pcrucifer said...

As the first volunteer, you'll be at the top of my list for chore help and goat sitting. :)

Gail said...


Glad you stopped by my blog...good luck with the goat farm, I mean shorter commute, grow more vegetables and goats home.

You are so right about progressives...I can say that because I am one!

Hope you visit my blog again.

clay and limestone

Gloria said...

As if the two vegetables and natives could be exclusive. If one wants the pollinators for growing food then native plants help. If one would like to encourage beneficial insects to prey upon less helpful bugs then natives help.
I have to say that progressives that leap in feet first bring the conversation futher faster and bring real life examples to those afraid to go to extremes.We need those willing to be the first to make mistakes and show what can be done despite opposition. Remember how long organic growing was dismissed?