Goats!  Part One – Let’s Goat Buffalo

Goats! Part One – Let’s Goat Buffalo

March is Women’s History Month, and on social media, I’ll be highlighting women from Buffalo history all month long. For my blog posts though, I’m going to be highlighting women in Buffalo who are making history right now. This week, it’s Jen Zeitler, owner of Let’s Goat Buffalo.

In our lives, we have occasion to meet a lot of people. Some are more interesting than others. Well, in January, I had occasion to meet a very interesting woman. She was speaking at a networking event and let’s face it, some of those are more interesting than others too. This one however, happened to be very interesting.

When I wrote a post about Urban Farming in Buffalo last summer, I called what organic urban farmers are doing ‘back to the future’. By that I meant that they are farming the way it was done before we humans mucked it up with chemical fertilizers etc. I feel the same way about Jen Zeitler and Let’s Goat Buffalo.

Jen and newborn Henry, born January 5.

I had the opportunity to sit down and chat with Jen, one on one, a couple of weeks ago. Here’s what I learned.

How It All Began

So, my obvious first question for Jen was, “How did you get started as a goat herder?” Now there’s a question that doesn’t get asked very often! Jen explained that she bought four acres of land in Franklinville, with the thought of keeping bees as a hobby. The land was covered in brush, with lots of thick, prickly berry bushes and the like. She looked into clearing the land, but most options included herbicides or pesticides. Jen knew for the health of her bees to come, she didn’t want to use either.

She kept looking for a better way. In online board discussions, people kept telling her to get a goat. Whether they were kidding or not, Jen took it to heart. Because in her heart, she knew that it would be the best thing to do for the earth.

She started looking for goats to borrow. There’s another sentence that doesn’t get uttered very often. But believe it or not, there are several goat farms near Buffalo, so Jen started calling them one by one to see if they’d be willing to lend her a goat or two to clear her land. They all thought she was crazy. Some even laughed and hung up on her!

Enter Kerry

She kept calling, until she called Kerry Planck, who owns Alpine Made, an organic Goat Farm in Wales, NY. Kerry crafts handmade raw organic goat milk soaps and skin care products. Kerry explained to Jen that because her farm is organic, she could not send her goats out to clear Jen’s land. You see, when a farm is certified organic, the animals have to eat organic too, and there could be no guarantees that Jen’s land was certified organic.

But instead of telling Jen she couldn’t help, Kerry invited her out to the farm for coffee. She suggested that if they brainstormed, they might be able to come up with a solution together. That first meeting would be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

The Plan

That day, Jen learned that on a normal goat dairy farm like Kerry’s, the males are only utilized for breeding. Often they are sold for meat as young calves. Likewise, when a female is past her milk producing years, they are quite often simply slaughtered. Well, Kerry wouldn’t do either because she loves animals. So she kept them.

Jen (l) and Kerry (r)

Also that day, the idea for Let’s Goat Buffalo was born. Together, Kerry and Jen came up with a plan. Jen would buy the males, and the females who were past their prime. They thought that people in and around Buffalo would be interested in a goat grazing service, if you will. Another type of back to the future idea, in that the goats could clear both public and private land of invasive plants without the use of chemical herbicides and pesticides. It would be a social enterprise too, because Jen would be offering a natural, and incidentally, more effective alternative.

Kerry would board the goats when they aren’t working (separate from her organic goats) and act as a mentor to Jen.

Sounds simple, right? Well, not so much.

Getting Started – The Regs

There are regulations. Or, I should say, there are now. Because Jen pretty much had to search out what she needed from the city, the county and the state. And apparently, nobody knew how to classify the business, or what types of permits she would need, because this hasn’t ever been done before. Although she ran into more than a few brick walls, she persisted.

In the end, Let’s Goat Buffalo is classified as a farm because she participates in the sale, purchase and husbandry of animals. The business also has a landscaping license from the city of Buffalo.

The Learning Curve

She also had to figure out HOW to do it. Jen tells a funny story about the first time she transported the goats. They were in a trailer she was towing with her car. Keep in mind she had never towed a trailer before, let alone one with live animals inside! Luckily, she has enough faith in herself to handle tough situations, and the ability to laugh at herself when it’s appropriate!

She also had to learn all about goats, including extensive knowledge of a goat’s ruminant digestion system. How to feed them, and care for them too. She also fell in love with them. That much is obvious when you see her with the goats.

And it’s also quite obvious that Jen has had to become an expert in plants as well. You see, there are plants that will harm goats, even kill them. For example, cherry trees can be extremely dangerous to goats. She has learned how to identify plants, and how they reproduce, in order to know the best way to remove them, and ‘manage her job site’ so to speak.

Jen views this part of her job as getting back to her roots. Her family owned and operated Brookins Greenhouses, in Orchard Park. Jerry Brookins purchased an acre of land on the north side of East Quaker Road in 1889, and by 1897 he had a thriving flower business with extensive greenhouses covering much of the original property. The business and the property grew to include vegetables as well as flowers in nearly two acres of greenhouses, on over six acres of land surrounding the original acre. Read more about Brookins Greenhouses here.

Goats Will Eat Anything!

By the way, Jen’s given me the inside scoop on goats. They will not eat everything. Goats will not eat tin cans. They will, however, chew on your clothes, but their chewing is more like ‘gumming’. I know because one of Jen’s goats ‘chewed’ my glove before becoming uninterested, and the glove and my fingers were both unharmed. My glove wasn’t even wet! I have to say, that all of this surprised this city girl! Oh, and also, you cannot have goats mow your lawn for you, because they don’t really eat grass. Sorry guys!

So How Does All This Let’s Goat Buffalo Stuff Work?

Good question. Jen explained to me that it’s not as simple as just taking the goats to a site, and letting them go. She has to carefully inspect a site for plants that could harm the goats. Once a site is deemed safe, Jen utilizes what is called targeted competitive grazing. She puts up an external fence around the site to be cleared. She then puts up a smaller internal electric fence where the goats will eat. (Don’t worry, the goats are raised with the electric fences, they’re used to them and they avoid them.) As the goats eat, the fences get moved to another section of the site, and the eating continues. Goats love to eat and so this isn’t like work for them!

In targeted competitive grazing, a goat will naturally observe the food available to them, how many other goats are present, and they will figure out their share of the food. Then they will eat, and eat and eat. Then they’ll sit down and they’ll chew, and chew and chew, beginning the ruminant process. Their digestion process actually sterilizes the plants they eat, and leaves a natural fertilizer behind, feeding the soil and promoting regrowth of desired plants, before they leave a site. It’s a win win for everybody.

What’s Next for Jen and Her Goats?

Let’s Goat Buffalo jobs typically last from several days to two weeks. Moving them back and forth to Wales was very difficult, so she bought a bus! Oh, naturally! This is one of the things I love about Jen. She thinks outside the box. Gotta move goats? Buy an old school bus, of course! She’s in the process of converting a vintage school bus to use for moving the goats. It’s perfect, because she can also let the goats sleep inside it at night on site, and there is a sleep compartment for the herder as well. Take a look at this video. It’ll give you a really good idea of how she’ll use the bus once it’s ready. If you are so inclined, you can donate to the cause as well.

In addition, Jen tells me that she now has 12 goats, and expects to have two more by summer, depending on births at Alpine Made. One herd (six to seven goats) is booked through the 2020 season, and Jen is working on booking the other six to seven. She has finally been able to hire a full time herder for the 2020 season to help her so she can concentrate on bookings, other job sites, and the endless hours of work all small business owners do just to keep afloat.

My Impressions

What an interesting business! Jen is a delightful person who obviously loves what she is doing, and she absolutely adores goats. As I’ve said in other posts, it’s just incredible to see someone doing what they love, and what they are so obviously meant to be doing. Jen is one of those people.

And for starting the city’s first goat grazing service, Jen goes on my list of Women in Buffalo Making History. Not only for starting a business, but for creating a true social enterprise that offers a natural and effective alternative to the use of pesticides in nature, affecting real change in they way we view nature and how to live more naturally in harmony with it. Jen’s business has the potential to affect the health of people all over the area. Less pesticides means less illness, simple as that.

I couldn’t resist one more photo of Baby Henry!
Courtesy of Jen Zeitler

Meeting Jen and Kerry has been an absolute joy for me. These two get it. They understand the importance of helping each other succeed, and that the good of the community, the land, the people and the animals, has to come before profits. The profits will come, but not before these.

Next week I’ll bring you the remarkable story of Kerry Planck of Alpine Made, in Part Two of this story about two women and lots of goats.

Tattoos Anyone? – Grey Havens Tattoos

Tattoos Anyone? – Grey Havens Tattoos

A few weeks back, January 30th to be exact, I published a post about Dog Ears Bookstore. When I shared it on social media, not one, but three people contacted me and told me about a fundraiser for Dog Ears that their tattoo artist puts together. That tattoo artist is David Jednat, owner of Grey Havens Tattoos (the name is a nod to Lord of the Rings) on Seneca Street in South Buffalo.

I was intrigued. So I contacted David and went over to see him a couple of days ago. My first thought as I parked and approached was ‘What a cool building…’. You all know how I love a good building. And it’s right between two of my favorite South Buffalo bars, Hopper’s Rush Inn and Blackthorn Pub. I’ve got a good feeling.

As busy as everyone in the shop obviously was, David immediately came over and greeted me at the custom made curved counter with a unique penny motif. I’ve heard of people doing the penny counter thing, but I’ve never seen it done. I found out later that David and Kody, one of the other tattoo artists, built the counters here. They’re impressive. Especially since they worked with no plan. Just sort of made it up as they went along. Nice.

Grey Havens Tattoos

As David get’s ready for his first client of the day, he chat’s easily about himself. He’s been a tattoo artist for nine years now, two of those years here in his own shop. He opened the shop in December of 2017. There are five tattoo artists here, including David, each one their own boss. David explains that the artists are contractors and they rent space from him, much like hair stylists. They have their own following, set their own prices, etc. David also brings in guest artists on occasion for events, or if they just happen to be in town.

Tattoo artists also travel to conventions all over the country. I’m told that these events can be both fun and lucrative. Interesting. This is a whole new world for me. You see, I don’t have any tattoos. Yet.

In case you’re one of those people who worries, tattoo artists are required to be licensed by Erie County, and this includes guest artists who are only there for a day. The Erie County Health Department Permit is right up on the counter for all to see, as required by law. The artists here are taking care of business, and after watching the prep involved, it certainly looks as though everyone here knows what they’re doing. Rest assured, this place is clean and the regulations are being followed.

The shop itself is spacious, eclectic, and well, laid back. There’s a real relaxed atmosphere here. Artists and clients chit chat while fantastic art is being made. The work they do is incredible. I’m amazed. I mean, we’ve all seen beautiful tattoos. But I’ve never sat down and watched the process. These artists are talented! I’ll show you more of their stuff later.

What Else is There?

As if tattoos aren’t enough, in the adjoining space, there is a piercing shop called Moria’s Piercing and Jewelry, also owned by David, and also a Lord of the Rings reference. 😉 Jess runs the show over there.

What Does All This Have To Do With Dog Ears Bookstore?

Good question. While living on Normal Street, David and his wife Melissa (then girlfriend) would head over to the Blackthorn Pub and have dinner on Friday nights. When a tattoo artist friend suggested they go for dessert at Dog Ears Cafe, they figured why not?

They fell in love with the place, just like I did. Not just for the delicious vegan baked goods (David is not vegan), but also for the books. It’s of course, all about the books at Dog Ears. So, the Blackthorn, Dog Ears for dessert and the books became their new Friday night tradition.

Hanging out at Dog Ears, they got to know Tom McDonnell, the owner. David tells me the story of how he was searching for a hard to find book on tattooing. Tom McDonnell knew a guy who happened to have one and he bought it, and gave it to David for the same price he paid. That’s, I’ve learned, who Tom is.

The Jednats became friends with Tom McDonnell. Tom not only helped to find hard to get tattooing books, he also helped set David up with a tattooing apprenticeship. He was even the minister at their wedding!

Time to Give Back

David explained that when he opened his own shop he was looking for a way to give back. That’s the thing about Buffalo business owners that I love the most. The willingness to share, pay it forward, and give back. To the people who have helped, to the community, and to the city.

In David’s case, when he decided he wanted to give back, he thought of Tom and Dog Ears. A worthy cause for sure. Dog Ears Bookstore has helped so many people through the years. Read about Dog Ears here.

So that’s how the fundraiser came to be. And it’s been a huge success so far, they’re coming up on the third annual (Sunday, March 8 at noon) and it promises to be bigger and better than ever. $50 for select tattoos, discounts on piercings, a basket raffle, pizza… you can read more specifics at Grey Haven’s event on facebook. It sounds like fun, and it’s for a great cause. They’re looking to do 100 tattoos this year! So if you were thinking about getting one anyway…you might want to check it out.

Some Photos of Tattoos in Process

I was really grateful that everyone was fine with me walking around snapping photos of their works in progress, both the artists and the clients. And they were so nice about it!

And Some Finished Artwork

One of David’s clients, Mary Kate, was kind enough to let me get some shots of her tatts. She’s living up to the message she wears on her right bicep. Thank you for that Mary Kate.

No real reason for this photo, I just liked the purple couch.
And it’s good to know someone’s taking care of the sidewalk.

And Some More From Facebook and Instagram

My Impressions of Grey Havens Tattoos

So I mentioned earlier that I don’t have any tattoos. Not yet. I can tell you that when I do get one, and I will, it’ll be at Grey Havens Tattoos. The high level of professionalism, along with just the right amount of personality is a good mix here, in my opinion.

It’s nice to see good people, doing good things for other good people. We all have something to give, and as for Grey Havens Tattoos and Dog Ears Bookstore, they’re both giving generously. This is the type of thing that makes Buffalo great.

So, on March 8, between noon and 8pm, head over to Grey Havens Tattoos at 2116 Seneca Street in South Buffalo. Get a tattoo, buy some chances on the raffle, or just donate. It’s what Buffalonians do. Can’t make it on March 8? They’re open everyday, noon – 8, except Sunday and Monday. Oh, and when you’re there, ask David about his ‘thing’ for human bones…

Check out Grey Havens facebook page and instagram. And here are the links to the artists personal pages as well. The tattoos are incredible.

Tattoos by Brynn; Kodyboostattoo; Big Joe Tattoo; d_manhardttattoos

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My New Favorite Bookstore – Dog Ears

My New Favorite Bookstore – Dog Ears

A couple months ago, I opened an email and immediately hovered the cursor over the delete button. But something made me stop and read it. And I’m glad I did. The email was from P.A. (Paul) Kane, who runs his own website over at Buffalo Mud. Paul mentioned that he volunteers regularly at Dog Ears Bookstore and Cafe, a little hidden gem over on Abbott Road in South Buffalo. He suggested I might write a blog post about it.

Little Hidden Gem

So last week, I headed over to Dog Ears Bookstore and Cafe. And hidden gem is a perfect description of this place.

My first impression walking in the door, was “What a cute little cafe.” And it is little, the cafe that is. Tiny, in fact. But as it turns out, the menu is anything but cute, it’s downright impressive. There is definitely something for everyone. The regulars seem to genuinely like the staff here too. That’s important.

I spent a few minutes getting a cup of tea and walking around the first floor taking pictures, while I waited for Tom McDonnell, the store’s Executive Director. I notice that this place is full of real Buffalo charm. It’s a mixture between tables to eat or work at, cozy little nooks to read in, and books. Tons of books. It’s then that I notice the amount of books for sale that are written by local authors (evidenced by the signage pointing them out). Later I would find out that this bookstore offers the largest variety of books by local authors in the city. Cool. There are lots and lots of books about Buffalo too. Love it.

The ‘Literary Center’

When Tom is ready, he and I head up to the Literary Center via the open circular staircase. There is a literary quote on the tread of each stair. There are fifteen stairs and Tom explains that five of the quotes are from classic literature, five are poetry, and five are from children’s literature. The authors of the quotes are written on the backs of the open treads. Sweet. I’m starting to fall in love with this place.

The entire second floor opens up to the Literary Center. It’s decorated with children in mind, but it’s very comfortable for adults as well. It’s here that the learning and the fun takes place.

The Man Behind the Books

Once upstairs, Tom speaks humbly but confidently about the buying of the building in 2006, and the journey to what Dog Ears Bookstore has become today. That is, a cafe (which was an existing cafe before as Caz Coffee Cafe), a non-profit book store and Literary Center. You see Tom has a masters degree in education, but instinctively knew he didn’t want to teach in the traditional sense. He wanted to teach both adults and children to have a passion for reading and writing. He chose a not-for-profit bookstore to realize his dream.

Tom McDonnell

I should mention that the whole time we talked, Tom, who is the Executive Director, busied himself with the mundane tasks of readying the literary center for the weekly “Puppy Tales” story hour. And when I say mundane, I mean it. How many Executive Directors do you know who would count vanilla wafers into individual servings, load straws into juice pouches, count out scissors and bottles of glue for each of the 22 children who would be arriving soon? Not many, I can tell you that.

Although I’ve just met him, I get a strong sense that he wouldn’t have it any other way. Doing this stuff himself I mean. It just wouldn’t occur to him to get someone else to do it for him.

And he speaks freely and humbly about Dog Ears the whole time. This is clearly his life’s work. His love and passion for it come through loud and clear. What an amazing thing it is to watch someone go about living their passion. It’s days like these I love my job.

Tom talks about the community. It’s very important to him. He not only says this, he lives it. It seems to come naturally to him. You live in a community, you support that community, and you serve that community. It’s who he is. And it’s what Dog Ears Bookstore has become.

Dog Ears, A Not For Profit

The book store is supported through book sales, as well as through grants from several sources with Tom doing the bulk of the grant writing himself. The website lists several sponsors of the programs that take place here. Tom mentions Chris Scanlon, their local congressman and Erie County as being big supporters of their programs, among many others. The sponsors help to keep the costs of the programs at little or nothing for the participants.

There are also many volunteers who keep the place humming, running the day to day operations of the bookstore. Tom says they couldn’t survive without their volunteers.

Peggy Minnich – one of the many volunteers

Any profits go back into three things: programming, the upkeep of the building, and salaries for Tom and the Volunteer Coordinator, Lynn Carloni. They are the only two paid employees. The cafe is self-supportive and the salaries there come from cafe proceeds.

The Programs at Dog Ears

A moment ago, I mentioned programs. Sure Dog Ears is a bookstore, but it’s really much more than that. The Literary Center on the second floor is host to at least seven programs. The children’s programs are:

  • Puppy Tales – more about that in a couple of minutes
  • Movie Night – 3rd Friday of each month, age appropriate children’s movie
  • Summer Reading and Writing Camps – six weeks in the summer
  • After School Homework Help Program

The adult programs are:

  • Dog Ears Book Club – all welcome – nominal fee
  • 4th Friday Poetry Night – small donation to cover snacks
  • Writer’s Workshop – runs in 6 week blocks – moderated by John Schreier

Information on all of these can be found at the book store. The Literary Center is also available to rent for book clubs and other meetings at $25/hour.

Puppy Tales at Dog Ears

Soon enough, it was time for the kids to come in for Puppy Tales. I’m not going to lie. I had intended to leave before the program started, so I could go through my photos to be sure I got all that I needed before I headed across town for another appointment.

But when the kids began to arrive and I saw the way they related to ‘Mr. Tom’ I couldn’t drag myself away. They were all (22 of them!) absolutely enthralled with Tom, who had taken his seat in the rocker, and spent a few minutes just talking to the kids. And listening. One little guy announced, “Tom, Tom, we have a new baby!” So cute!

Once everyone had arrived, Tom talked with the kids about the letters of the day. Colors. Numbers. Days of the week. Then he read them a book, inserting his own funny comments, cracking the kids up all throughout. He was really in his element now. As I walked around taking photos, I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face. This is truly what Tom is meant to do. And this is why the kids were so excited coming in, and why the parents and grandparents didn’t seem to mind having to stay. It’s because they were enjoying it as much as the kids!

For these lucky little ones, Tom is laying the foundation of what he calls the four phases of reading. Learning to read. Reading to learn. Reading for content. And reading for life. What a wonderful philosophy.

I can tell you this, if the other programs at Dog Ears are half as good as Puppy Tales (and I hear that they are), any one of them would be worth taking part in.

My Impressions

I realize I talk about gratitude pretty often in these posts. What can I say, I choose to live gratefully. So, today I’m grateful to Paul Kane for sending me that random email. It’s things like this that make me love this town even more. Just to know that Buffalonians still reach out to each other to offer ideas for creativity. And I’m even more grateful to have gotten to know Dog Ears Bookstore, with all the amazing things that are happening at this small, local business.

After all, this is what Buffalo is about. We have great people all over the city doing their thing, in unassuming ways, helping to rebuild our town by strengthening one community at a time. And don’t forget those who offer ideas to people like me. I am fortunate to be able to meet some of them through my work. Tom McDonnell and his non-profit bookstore are now among my favorites.

Dog Ears’ website is linked above, but you should really visit to see the place for yourself. It’s located at 688 Abbott Road in South Buffalo. Plan on grabbing a bite to eat. And while you’re at it, pick up a couple of books. Try to make at least one of them by a local author. Also, be prepared to fall in love with the place.

That’s enough pontificating for one day, I’ve got to go. I have to call Tom McDonnell to see if I can get my granddaughter into the next session of Puppy Tales.

**p.s. Dog Ears is having their annual fundraiser on April 25; the theme this year is the Roaring Twenties and more information will be available soon at the store.

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