WASHINGTON - Congressional Cemetery — located near Capitol Hill — is the only American "cemetery of national memory" founded before the Civil War. Those buried there include legendary FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, famed Civil War photographer Mathew Brady, and many members of the U.S. Congress.
But in recent years, the cemetery has been overrun by weeds, and officials didn’t want to use herbicides because of the nearby Anacostia River.
Instead, the cemetery has adopted a new method of weeding — which is both cost-effective and environmentally sensitive.
“We are very close to the river,” said Lauren Maloy, Congressional Cemetery Program Director. “So we are always looking for ways to make sure that we are sustainable, that we are not using pesticides that might hurt the environment. As a green cemetery in all senses of the word, we thought of the idea of ‘hiring’ goats.”
So the cemetery did just that. And the goats embarked on a non-stop eating binge, as if they were at an all-you-can-eat buffet. They’re kept corralled on the cemetery grounds by an electronic fence.
'They just love eating'
The goats are owned by Mary Bowen, whose farm runs a company called Browsing Green Goats. The price tag to clean unwanted vegetation: $4,500 per acre. It sounds expensive, but Bowen says it’s about half the price of using herbicides.
“The great things about goats: There’s no instructions; they don’t take breaks; there’s no union; they don’t need Sunday afternoon off … they just love eating!” Bowen said. “The only time they will actually take a break to lay down is to let the vegetation ruminate in their intestine. Otherwise, they are eating.”
Private residents can also hire these goats. Diana Davis and her neighbors employ 35 goats to clean their yards in the Heritage Harbor Community of Annapolis, Maryland.
“Oh, they are doing a wonderful job,” Davis said. “Everybody’s thrilled. Because we all know how dense it was when they came. And, of course, the neighbors keep coming over to see and they are just amazed.”
Which is what Bowen was hoping for when she started the project.
“The goats to me give such a sense of community and bring people together for a common good,” she said. “And that makes me feel very good to be of service.”
Bowen checks every day to make sure the electronic fence is working properly; she says she has not lost a single goat in five years. Her hope is that, through this approach, more people can actively take part in protecting the environment, while keeping their property manicured and weed-free.