Morgan Hartman with one of the goats that is clearing the forest around Pine Cobble School of invasive species. Photos by Judith Lerner.
Goats in the Wood Dinner: April 25
• 4 p.m. walk to visit the goats
• 5 p.m. dinner featuring goat meat in North African and Sub-Saharan presentations.
• 6:30 p.m. talk by Peter J. Smallidge about the original Goats in the Woods project
• Cost is $15, check or cash; register here.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Goats in the Woods Dinner: A Study in African Goat Cuisine.
The name caught my attention. I read more.
This Friday, April 25, the Sustainable Food & Agriculture Program at Williams College, Pine Cobble School, Wild Oats Market and Black Queen Angus Farm in Berlin, N.Y., will collaborate to celebrate the successful start of a natural, efficient, economical and environmentally sound forest management project built on the backs — the mouths, really — of goats.
For an affordable $15, everyone is invited to a gourmet, goat-centered buffet dinner at Pine Cobble prepared by Greg Roach, executive chef at Wild Oats, and his staff. Walk-ins are welcome but dinner reservations ensure there will be enough of all the food.
Roach thinks of himself as a food anthropologist. Recently, he has been working with African flavors and ingredients. He will be cooking two mildly spicy goat dishes — a stew with groundnuts/peanuts from Nigeria, a nut-free curry from Morocco — with appropriate side dishes, housemade dessert and beverages. The main course were locally raised at Black Queen Angus Farm.
Child care and a children's dinner, made with the children's help, will be available.
Before dinner, there will be a woods walk to visit the goats at 4 p.m. with Morgan Hartman, managing partner and sole worker at Black Queen Angus Farm and the evening's speaker, Peter Smallidge, teacher, NYS Extension Forester and the director of the Cornell University Arnot Teaching and Research Forest. This will be a good time for informal conversation with Hartman and Smallidge.
Dinner starts at 5 p.m.
After dinner, Smallidge, who managed the original Goats in the Woods project when it was a research program at Cornell jointly with Pennsylvania State University starting in 2001, will speak about the project and other sustainable forest issues.
The visit to the goats and the talk are free, with or without the dinner.
So, the goats …
As an undergraduate at Cornell, Hartman had worked in Smallidge's goat project. They studied this traditional way to clear brush and control invasive plants — garden ornamentals whose seeds had been carried through, then dropped into, mature forests by birds. The ornamentals flourished and became the invasives.
"The invasives are so heavily invested in the woods at Pine Cobble that the native plants are struggling," Hartman told me when he took me to see the goats a couple of weeks ago. "There is no native plant regeneration in the undergrowth."
Hartman suggested putting goats into Pine Cobble's woods as a holistic approach to the school's regular spring campus cleanup.
Since late March, goats has been browsing the woods on and surrounding the stately campus of Pine Cobble. The small kiko goats — bred up from feral goats in New Zealand for their meat, their maternal traits and their survivability — wander at ease, nibbling a bit of bark here, bush branch tips there, happily stripping the yummy — to goats — bark off trees and shrubs not native to New England.
As we walked through, Hartman pointed out the tall intruders — Japanese barberry, burning bush, honeysuckle, privet, multiflora rose, apple and European buckthorn trees. They towered over cherry, maple, oak and other native saplings, blocking out light. He disparaged non-native pachysandra and myrtle/vinca minor groundcovers that overclimb smaller forest plants.
I could see the natives were not growing, not thriving.
I asked Hartman how the goats know which plants to eat, which are the invasives?
"They don't know the invasives from the non-invasives. Goats find the highest nutrient density and they go for that," he explained.
"When the invasives begin to regenerate we will use the goats in a second application. We can preferentially select for the natives so they will regrow and the invasives will not. Goats can even be moved through an area with poison ivy. It's all about managing time and timing."
Hartman, Susannah H. Wells, Pine Cobble's head of school, and the school community hope to see sugar and red maples, black cherry, red oak, Eastern hemlock and mountain laurel reforest their woods.
Wild Oats chef Greg Roach is whipping up African-style goat dishes for the 'Goats in the Woods' dinner.
When he had sat on the board of Berkshire Grown, Hartman said he began to notice "there are so many organizations in the Berkshires that have overlapping missions. They are working in parallel but not necessarily in tandem."
It was important to Hartman to get Brent Wasser, the Sustainable Food and Agriculture program manager at Williams College, and Roach interested and involved in the project.
"It was a no-brainer, really," Hartman said.
Hartman sees Wasser as "responsible for the greening of the dining services at Williams College."
"Wild Oats, as an institution, has been really proactive in engaging and incorporating the local farming community, for years," he continued. "Greg is a fantastic chef. He does a great job with his catering. He's engaged. He's been great to work with.
"We humans are social creatures and eating together begins breaking down barriers within a community."
Hartman envisions this Goats in the Woods dinner as the first of a series. He has plans to bring a nutritionist, an agronomist and a chef — all well-known outside the Berkshires if not here — for future speaking events. Three per semester.
"We have brought together people who are passionate about educating the next generation to think about the environment and to work in concert with it," Pine Cobble's Wells said. "We hope this is the first of many collaborative efforts educating us about healthy eating, community connections, local farming, sustainable agricultural practices, and the interconnectedness of ecosystems."
Through working with Deborah Dane, executive director and producer of Willinet, TimeWarner's public access television channel and sharing it on YouTube, Hartman said he hopes to make the lectures available to people everywhere, a local version of TEDx Talks in microcosm.
"The question the series will answer in myriad ways," Hartman said, "is, 'Where does our food come from?'"
"If we're asking the question of where our food comes from, let's have some food! An academic exercise goes in our ear and out the other. If we tie the lecture together with the dining experience it is incorporated into who we are."
"Education doesn't have to be boring," Hartman concluded. "It can be exciting. It can taste good. And, it can be inexpensive."