South Charlotte

Goats star at research park festival

The Wells Farm goats will return this year for the second annual Green Goats & Garden Festival, to be held Saturday in University Research Park.

A thousand people attended the event last year to gaze upon the 15 goats grazing on the 21/2 acre lot owned by Environmental Way, a development company housed in the research park that focuses on turning existing buildings into energy-efficient green workspaces.

While the festival centers around the usefulness of goats to manage overgrowth, the event offers more than just its headliners. More than 24 vendors have signed on, featuring everything from all-natural root beer to green-themed jewelry. Activities for the kids are scheduled as well, from environmentally friendly crafts to bike safety inspections. This year's event also includes a duathlon, with proceeds going to the WISH Program, which works to reduce homelessness in Charlotte.

The idea for the festival came about last year just a few months before the event was actually held, said Mary Hopper, executive director of University City Partners. At the time, UCP was looking to promote green activities and spread the word about the little-known beauty inside the research park.

At the same time, Vickie Pennington and David Bowles were moving their business, Environmental Way, into the old IBM building in the research park. To earn points for a LEED premium status, the highest achievement for a sustainable green building, the owners hired a herd of goats to chew at the overgrowth surrounding the 10-year vacant building.

Together, both UCP and Environmental Way saw an opportunity to educate the community.

"We just knew that would be a draw for the children, and so we built a festival around it," said Hopper.

"It fit into both their vision and our vision," said Pennington. Tours of Environmental Way, now a state-of-the-art energy-efficient building showcasing a wind turbine, solar panels and other cutting-edge advances, are available during the festival.

Ron Searcy of Wells Farm was happy to oblige to the request for goats. He loaded 15 of his 300 off the farm and made the trek from Horseshoe, N.C., to University City. There, he fenced them in and gave the city folk instructions for watering the animals. After 11 days, his goats had picked the 21/2 acres clean of overgrowth.

"They're just natural born weed-eaters," said Searcy. "This is a new and better way to clear land. A slower way to clear land, but much more effective."