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Of course, not everyone wants to get that close to their food sources. Dwarf goats in particular have been a point of contention. They smell bad and can wreak havoc if they escape, opponents say; some also worry that allowing goats will pave the way for legalizing llamas and cows in cities. Goat advocates, who note that only horned males emit musk, say the ruminants are gentle enough to be walked on a leash and that they generate high-quality manure, which can be used as fertilizer.
The movement has led to heated debates in city-council meetings over the definitions of livestock, small animals and farm animals. The result: a hodgepodge of animal-ownership laws across the nation and even within a state. This spring in North Carolina, for example, Asheville voted to allow temporary permits for goats to clear vegetation, while Charlotte banned them from properties smaller than a quarter of an acre despite supporters showing up at a city-council meeting with signs reading I LOVE MY PYGMY GOAT.
Those enthusiasts may have taken a page from the godmother of goat lovers, Jennie Grant, owner of Brownie and Snowflake, who founded the Goat Justice League two years ago while pushing Seattle to legalize miniature goats. It is now permissible to have three on a 5,000-sq.-ft. lot, and some city departments have hired goats to clear blackberry brambles. "Part of my lobbying effort included bringing fresh chèvre to city-council members' offices," she says.
Locavore yuppies and suburban soccer moms aren't the only ones committing to animal husbandry. Catherine Ferguson Academy, a Detroit high school for teens who are pregnant or have already become mothers, has for years had a working farm adjacent to campus. The school considers gardening and raising animals integral to its curriculum. Under the tutelage of life-sciences teacher Paul Weertz, the young women built a barn one year and provide daily care for rabbits, horses, goats, chickens, ducks, turkeys and peacocks. The students recently acquired a pig and, says principal Asenath Andrews, they're going to eat it.
Andrews hopes farming teaches the girls to be more entrepreneurial, well-rounded moms. "Breast-feeding, which is definitely not a popular adolescent activity, is looked on differently by the girls who experience the lessons with baby rabbits," she says. A teachable moment happened the day students broke open an egg containing what appeared to be a viable chick, which the girls frantically tried to save, even calling in the school nurse. The chick died, but the episode sparked a thoughtful conversation about premature human babies, the risks they face and the possibility that saving ailing preemies isn't always merciful. It was one of her most fulfilling days as an educator, Andrews says. "If we have one of those discussions a year, it's worth having a goat or 10 goats at the school."
Of course, which animal is most valuable to the downtown farmer depends on whom you ask. "[Rabbits] are the ideal urban farm animal," says Carpenter, because "they can feed almost exclusively on Dumpstered items like lettuce, stale bread, etc." Seattle Tilth's Thornton thinks that ducks are better for gardens than chickens and that they provide tastier eggs. "I think the duck is the future," she says. Game on, chicken lovers.