On a recent Sunday afternoon in East Germantown, drivers and pedestrians on Ardleigh Street spotted something unusual: five goats of various sizes crossing the street under the watchful eye of Karen Krivit, the founder of the Philly Goat Project.
Visitors who had shown up to walk the goats led their hoofed companions down the sidewalk on ropes, snapping pictures of them and petting their backs affectionately. As for the goats, they were more interested in scarfing down "goat potato chips," or dried leaves — a crunchy, salty pick-me-up for when they're on the go — whenever they came across one on the sidewalk.
"No snacking!" Krivit said as she led the group past a lawn that the goats eyed hungrily. "This is a working walk. We have to stay on task."
The Philly Goat Project currently includes miniature Nigerian Dwarf goats Ivy, Anthony, and Bebito, and mixed-breed goats Oliver and Oonagh. The goats offer therapy, visit schools to teach students about nature, munch on unwanted invasive species in people's backyards, and provide other ecological experiences in Philadelphia. The goal, according to Krivit, is to increase community engagement by bringing this agricultural experience to an urban landscape in an environmentally responsible way.
Twice a week, they do a community walk, during which anyone can come to Awbury Agricultural Village, where the goats live, to meet and learn about the project. (Want to participate? Head to the Awbury Agricultural Village, in Awbury Arboretum. No notice required.)
Krivit, a social worker, conceptualized the project a year ago in order to increase community engagement and provide animal therapy for people with special needs. Eventually, Krivit said, the project will expand to include goat "landscaping," goat yoga, and maybe even goat products, such as milk and cheese.
"Typically animal therapy is done with dogs or horses, but those animals are not as versatile as goats," Krivit said. "Goats are a lot smaller and easier to transport." (The goats will soon have their own van, allowing them to be transported around the city safely.)
For this reason, Krivit was adamant that the Philly Goat Project had to based in Philadelphia and be accessible via public transportation for those who participate in the project. This proved to be a challenge, as the city's zoning laws require anyone with farm animals to have at least three acres of land. She reached out to a number of people before settling on Awbury Arboretum.
"When people meet our goats, they're super surprised by how trainable and funny they are," Krivit said. "Goats are definitely animals with a sense of humor."
Chris and Malia Neal brought their 1-year-old son, Leo, to Awbury on Sunday to meet the goats. Malia follows the arboretum on social media and the new parents are always looking for something interactive to do with their son.
"He pet a goat today for the first time," Chris said. "Leo was very brave. We all had a great time."
The Philly Goat Project started in February when Krivit enlisted her daughter, Lily Sage, as well as dozens of volunteers to help her clear an area at the arboretum for a goat barn. Krivit said the project didn't cost a lot of money, but it took a lot of people to get it off the ground smoothly. She scaled back her hours as a social worker and reached out to friends and family for donations, eventually securing supplies from friends and Home Depot. Hector Vega, the landscape foreman at Awbury, assisted Krivit with the land-clearing and barn-raising — so much so, that she named Bebito after Vega's nephew who was shot and killed in February. In May, they finally acquired their first goats.
"We really want to expand responsibly," Sage said. "We've been careful about where we get our goats, because we want them to get used to things. It's just as unsafe to introduce a new goat to an existing biome and vice versa."
Because the goats are meant to be therapy animals as well as foliage clearers, Krivit selected goats with calm temperaments who were interested in having relationships with people. She worked hard to socialize them to dogs. Sage also taught the goats how to do tricks in English, Spanish, and nonverbal cues. Currently the goats can give kisses, spin in circles, shake hands, and climb on people's backs on command.
But the goats' favorite activity is still eating — they can devour up to 25 percent of their body weight per day. Krivit purchased solar-powered electric fencing to control which areas the goats grazed in.
"This Christmas, we're going to hold a Christmas-tree-eating contest for them," Krivit said. "We'll time them and see who finishes a Christmas tree the fastest."
More immediately, there will be a dedication ceremony for the goats in September. Krivit plans to use this as an opportunity to recognize the work put into the project by volunteers.
"Starting something new can feel really isolating, but knowing that the city is with us is awesome," Sage said. "It feels a bit like a treasure hunt, like we're waiting for the next thing to uncover itself."