Pick Your Poison
by Kate Tvelia Athearn
An enterprising couple, their thirteen goats, and a plan to improve the Vineyard landscape, one yard at a time.
On any given day, farming couple Joe Van Nes and Kristine Patnugot can be spotted bouncing up and down dirt roads in their dusty pickup truck, delivering hungry goats to overgrown backyards across the Island. Their “Scapegoat Goatscaping” lawn care service seeks not only to sustain the Island’s trimming, pruning, and fertilizing needs in an environmentally-friendly fashion, but to provide a healthy and garden-rich diet for their thirteen beloved goats.
Goats are known for eating just about anything, and that’s no myth, said Joe and Kristine. Their herd has a voracious appetite for anything green—with notable exceptions, like lily of the valley and mountain laurel, which the goats seem to avoid on their own—but particularly poison ivy, the scourge of every Island yard. Here’s how it works: the goats stay on site anywhere from a few days to a few weeks, depending on the size of the area to be cleared and how dense your vegetation is. They eat everything unwanted in your yard, and take just a salt lick and fresh water for dessert. You leave with a newly fertilized and manicured lawn, and, if you’re paying attention, an education in soil biology.
In 2011, Joe and Kristine left New York City for the green fields and slower pace of life on the Island. They weren’t initially looking to start a lawn care business. But when they stumbled upon a small herd of goats that needed a new home, the idea of “zero-carbon landscaping” was born. With their infectious passion for both local agriculture and conserving the environment, Joe and Kristine are the superheroes of the landscaping world: dedicated to educating clients about plant biology and the benefits of goat manure, restoring balance to the Island soil, and wiping out poison ivy wherever they go.
Traditional lawn care is comprised of chemical pesticides and fertilizers that poison our groundwater, while the machinery used burns fuel and belches out carbon dioxide. Goats, on the other hand, eat grass instead of fossil fuels, gobble up unwanted weeds, and are natural fertilizing machines. Their manure also has a high pH, so it enriches and corrects our Island’s acidic soil, making it less attractive to invasive plants like poison ivy. Kristine and Joe see goatscaping as a way to “evolve our landscapes,” using nature’s lawnmowers to prune the Island’s flora in a way that sup- ports and sustains, rather than abuses, our environment.
The demand for goatscaping is only increasing, and Joe and Kristine are contemplating ways to expand their business, from extending the season, to teaching their clients how to milk the goats, to incorporating pigs into their landscaping crew. Joe recently acquired a 1988 ambulance, which he’s in the process of refurbishing to support their expanding business, the goats, and their fencing—the “Goatmobile,” he calls it. With their boundless energy and eco-friendly business acumen, the sky might actually be the only limit for this dynamic, poison ivy-fighting duo.