Derelict Detroit putting sheep back on city streets, looks to NZ for advice

Detroit to study urban animal farming
By Tammy Stables Battaglia
Detroit Free Press
McClatchy-Tribune Information Services
Sept. 26–A Detroit City Council committee thinks it’s time to consider allowing urban animal farming, which could lead to sheep mowing parts of the city.
After a presentation today about how sheep are used for turf management in a Cleveland pilot program, three members of the city’s Planning and Economic Development/Neighborhood and Community Services standing committees voted to move forward with studying the idea.
“We’re not talking about horses. We’re not talking about cattle. We’re talking about sheep, goats, things of that nature, ” said Councilman James Tate.
Tate and council members JoAnn Watson and Kenneth Cockrel Jr. directed city planners and the city’s legislative committee to research the idea. Specific sites where sheep could be placed were not discussed.
The move came after Laura DeYoung, an environmental planning consultant and head of Ohio-based Urban Shepherds, outlined how sheep are used to mow grass on a 5-acre plot of land in Cleveland.
The group’s pilot project is visible from I-90 just east of downtown, near the East 55th Street Marina. About three dozen sheep and a llama that helps protect them graze the land from May through mid-October. The undeveloped property is in an area void of houses, bordered by an apartment building, Lake Erie and I-90.
“Initially, it sounds like a crazy idea,” she said. “The idea here is to stop mowing and start grazing.”
DeYoung said volunteer shepherds are trained to handle the sheep, rotating the animals so they don’t overeat and strip the grass. The site has become a tourist attraction, she said.
“It sounds corny, but people flock to the site. Lolly the Trolley goes by. There are people biking and hiking by,” said DeYoung.
DeYoung said Detroit could start a similar project for under $20,000, with support from development organizations and grants. She said the main start-up cost is installing fencing.
The first step in Detroit would be to approve zoning, she said. Senior City Planner Kathryn Underwood said bees, chickens and rabbits were originally included in urban fish farming guidelines passed in April. But public outcry prompted officials to cut the animal part of the proposal.
After DeYoung’s presentation, Watson raised questions about security of the animals and liability issues but voted to move forward with research.
“I’m concerned that there’s a master plan approach so you’re not developing pieces,” Watson said. She said she has looked at similar projects at Chicago O’Hare International Airport and outside Google headquarters in California. She pointed out cities aren’t actually overseeing the herds or the farmland projects — just providing proper zoning.
“They’re not being routed to areas of the city beyond O’Hare Airport, where there might be blight or vacant land,” Watson said. “Cleveland’s still paying money to mow land in Cleveland.”
Tate said those issues will be considered while officials research urban animal farming.
“This is at the embryonic stage of this conversation,” Tate said.
Three people spoke in support of the idea: Brightmoor residents Reit Schumack and Joe Rashid, the outreach coordinator with the Brightmoor Alliance, and City Girls Soap owner Amy McIntire. They pointed out residents already sell produce grown there, and the alliance is considering a commercial kitchen.
Rashid said Brightmoor already hosts urban gardens, periodic petting zoos and has 93 acres of cleared land awaiting an agricultural use.
“Agriculture is a huge draw in Brightmoor, so we’d love to see it there,” Rashid said. “I think this is a great step forward, and it’s a really innovative thing we could do.”
DeYoung said she has been studying turf management grazing for the past three years, looking at how it’s done around the world.
“They’re doing it everywhere,” she said. “They’re doing it in Brazil, they’re doing it in Paris … Australia, New Zealand. There are many other places in the world where you manage your lawn with sheep.”
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