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Goats graze on Bethlehem's buckthorn buffet

The church plans to convert the undeveloped land into an outdoors learning nature area.

Goats eat buckthorn in an undeveloped lot
Goats eat plants Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2022, at Bethlehem Evangelical Lutheran Church in Brainerd. The goats were at the church lot to help clear invasive buckthorn.
Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch
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BRAINERD — Bethlehem Evangelical Lutheran Church owns a plot of land overgrown with buckthorn so its leaders enlisted Brainerd Lakes Goats Brush Control to help clear it.

The church plans to convert the undeveloped land into an outdoors learning nature area.

They spent the past year planning their project and hosted an event for the congregation shortly after the goats’ arrival. The church hosted an Aug. 2 potluck and prayer service to share the progress with its members.

The goats they enlisted to help are not the same goats that made a run for it earlier this summer, but they are doing the same thing. The 100-plus goats that broke free from Rotary Park and grazed in the backyard of a south Brainerd home in July belonged to a different company. Brainerd Lakes Goat Brush Control brought in 22 goats to clear the area, but the company owns about 130 goats in total.

“Once we get it out of here and buckthorn is removed, it'll be a nature learning center for the kids,” said Russ Schultz, Bethlehem’s creation care team leader. “I have visions that we could have a gazebo down there for the kids to have studies and things like that.”

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Goats at Bethlehem Evangelical Lutheran Church
People have a chance to meet some of the goats Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2022, at Bethlehem Evangelical Lutheran Church in Brainerd. The goats were at the church lot to help clear invasive buckthorn.
Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

Buckthorn is an invasive plant species that takes over large areas and out-competes other native plants. It produces many berries that drop seeds, causing the plants to spread rapidly. The goats were trained to eat the buckthorn and control its presence in an area.

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The goats arrived July 30 and will leave the property Friday morning. The goats only eat the plants down to the base, so the care team will have to finish the job later this year.

“We ended up getting a grant from our Northeast Senate and then started the process,” Schultz said during an Aug. 2 interview. “The goats were delivered here on Saturday and I can already see a difference.”

The church received a $1,000 grant to clean up the space and continue forth with its plans.

Brainerd Lakes Goat Brush Control brought a few bunnies and younger goats that haven’t been trained to eat the buckthorn to the church for the congregation to pet after the potluck.

The church is planning for the future of its plot while keeping the children in mind. The goal of making an outdoor learning environment for the congregation is one step closer thanks to the help of the goats.

SARA GUYMON may be reached at 218-855-5851 or at sara.guymon@brainerddispatch.com. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/Sara_Guymon.

Sara Guymon recently joined the Brainerd Dispatch as a staff writer.
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