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home : features : catholic schools

7/20/2017 9:00:00 AM
SHEEP AND GOATS
School, parish choose 'natural lawnmowers'
MAGINN STUDENTS MEET THE GOATS (AMY LUKE PHOTO)
MAGINN STUDENTS MEET THE GOATS (AMY LUKE PHOTO)
SHEEP MOW THE HANCOCK CEMETERY
SHEEP MOW THE HANCOCK CEMETERY
BY AMY LUKE
STAFF WRITER

Animals abound in the Albany Diocese this summer. With the help of some farming friends, Bishop Maginn High School in Albany and St. Paul the Apostle parish in Hancock are taking an environmentally-friendly route to maintaining their property.

Ann and Larry Cihanek of Green Goats, a Rhinebeck-based company that rents hungry goats to clear underbrush from customers' land, were approached by Bishop Maginn High School about clearing the tall grasses that surrounded their community garden.

The garden sits atop a steep incline behind the school building. Green Goats supplies goats to clean up parks, schools, colleges, golf courses, cemeteries and historic sites.

"Goats are great with eradicating invasives -- poison ivy, Japanese knotweed, bamboo, that sort of thing -- things that crowd green space," Mrs. Cihanek told The Evangelist.

Keep on chewing
According to the Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture, goats are natural brush-clearing machines, with their four-compartment stomachs and endless appetite for greenery. Moreover, goats are environmentally-friendly substitutes for herbicides and lawnmowers.

Two years ago, the Cihaneks lost all 100 of their goats in a devastating fire. The couple received donations from far and wide to start over, including many from Albany.

"We wanted to give back," Mrs. Cihanek said, so they decided to donate the goats' services to Bishop Maginn for a week, along with fencing for an enclosure for the animals.

"They donated it all to help us with the project," said Susan Silverstein-Gilligan, a theology teacher and director of campus ministry at Bishop Maginn. "This all came out of their own pockets. It's a $2,500 donation."

Gifts from garden
Without that generosity, said Mrs. Silverstein-Gilligan, the school would not have been able to afford the services. She said the Cihaneks "were happy to help, because they know the end result is going to be feeding more people."

In the garden, students grow squash, beans, peppers, tomatoes, corn and herbs that the school donates to the food pantry at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, right next door.

"The kids work all summer and they harvest the produce," said Mrs. Silverstein-Gilligan.

In mid-June, when the goats were put to work, a few students helped set up the fencing. Then the entire school body went outside to watch three goats named Maggie, Eddie and Griffin being released into the grassy space.

Shekinah, a senior, said the fact that "we're part of the community and helping out, it's really nice. And it's nice to give back."

Sophomore Jaylyn added: "Our school gets to be known for giving back to community, so that's good."

Bishop Maginn students dressed as farmers for the goats' arrival, which was also the last day of the school year, and had a celebratory picnic.

Hancock gets help
Meanwhile, in Hancock, St. Paul the Apostle parish is trading in its lawnmower for sheep to mow and fertilize the grass this summer at one of its parish cemeteries, St. Francis de Sales.

To a sheep, the property "looks like a gigantic salad," said Rev. Daniel Quinn, pastor.

"If I were a sheep, it would look yummy to me," he said. "It's got so many varieties of plants and grasses and flowers, so I think the sheep will probably enjoy it."

After parishioners came forward with articles about using animal grazing for land maintenance, Father Quinn said they found Tom Shea, a local farmer who owns Shea Farm, who agreed to help.

Throughout the summer, Mr. Shea, who lives close to the cemetery, is bringing his sheep to graze the cemetery land seven times. The sheep began in early June with five straight days of munching to clear out especially high grasses, and have since been returning for three-day periods.

To cover the approximately $3,500 cost for the season, said Father Quinn, the parish raised part of the money and received a matching grant from the the A. Lindsay and Olive B. O'Connor Foundation. The foundation provides grants to upstate New York non-profits, mainly in Delaware County and surrounding areas.

Boon to wallet
The environmental and monetary benefits of using sheep are being felt immediately at St. Paul's.

"We're contributing to agriculture in the local economy, compared to where we buy our gasoline from," Father Quinn said. "We're keeping the money local."

The change also means St. Paul's two groundskeepers don't have to drive to St. Francis de Sales cemetery; they can focus more on upkeep of the church grounds and of the other cemetery, St. Paul's.

Having sheep "mowing" eliminates lawnmower repair costs, too: Because St. Francis de Sales Cemetery is so old, said the pastor, bumping over the ground is particularly hard on lawnmowers.

We love it
Parishioners' response appears to be positive.

"People are very excited about it," said Father Quinn. "Most of them think it's a good thing, and it frees up our own parish staff to do some other things."

Some parishioners have already seen the sheep in action. On the day the animals arrived, Father Quinn was joined by a group of parishioners when he went out to bless the cemetery.

"The parishioners who came enjoyed seeing the sheep," he reported.





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