As reported last month, two stray, domestic dogs caused the deaths of a dozen animals at The Urban Farm Stapleton (TUF) in January 2017. The Farm’s prized goat herd was entirely lost, along with several sheep and rabbits. The incident also damaged many fences and enclosures.
After news of the tragedy spread, the community took the bull by the horns and fundraising efforts sprouted across local schools. “The response has been tremendous,” said Michael Nicks, executive director of The Urban Farm. Student leaders in McAuliffe International School’s “Spark Change” club voted to send $400 of money they had previously raised to The Urban Farm. When they delivered the donation, they also helped prepare the office building for renovation, part of McAuliffe’s ongoing volunteer service to the organization.
Students at Swigert International School hatched a plan for a bake sale. The fifth-graders’ culinary efforts raised almost $900, which was then supplemented by a grant from Swigert of more than $400, bringing their total contribution over $1,300. Individuals across Denver have come together, and donations have blossomed to over $12,000 to date. Nicks also said a donor in Montrose has offered five Nigerian goats to the Farm.
In the short term, TUF hopes the seed money will allow them to re-stock their herd with five Nigerian dwarf goats, four Boer goats, and three Shetland sheep. Donors who contribute $1,000 or more will get to name one of the new animals.
On top of the financial generosity, adults and children have flocked to TUF, offering helping hands. While the grownups mended fences and enclosures, shoring up security around the property, the kids from 4-H sat down to hand-write thank-you notes to the donors who contributed funds. The temporary fence built by the volunteers allowed the farm’s remaining livestock to return from off-site locations.
Animal Programs at The Urban Farm
Goats, sheep and rabbits are central to many TUF programs like field trips, Storybook Farm summer camp, fiber arts, animal husbandry, and 4-H. Nicks described a field trip program called “Literature in Action,” where students get a book about an animal and then come to the farm to interact with the animal and spend time in the barn. “Goats and rabbits are perfect for the younger age group. The rabbits are small enough that the kids can hold them. Nigerian goats are very tame and used to kids, and you don’t have to worry about them stepping on their toes,” he said. “Those animals are really important to the program that we do in terms of education, especially younger education.”
Older children particularly reap benefits from programs with the Boer goats, and TUF hopes to reestablish a herd soon to teach them about the goat life cycle and where food comes from. “I’ve actually had middle-school students come out and look at the Boer goat and ask me if it’s a dog,” said Nicks. Continuing to introduce urban kids to agriculture is an ongoing mission of the organization, one that depends on maintaining a healthy herd.
In the short term, with the contributions, the Urban Farm is digging in and hiring a contractor to redesign their enclosures so they have fewer gates and a more secure structure. This will include new, eight-foot fences that replace the shorter ones that were breached by the dogs. These fences might feature “coyote rollers”—lengths of PVC pipe on rope—at the top to prevent future incursions.
The organization continues to grow its programs through collaborations with a variety of partners on other projects. The City and County of Denver owns all of the structures on the property and recently agreed to direct $500,000 to update the old weather station, bringing the building up to modern ADA standards. “That helps us tremendously,” said Nicks. An Inspire grant through Great Outdoors Colorado is allowing them to build an urban garden with fences. And two years of work with an architect will bear fruit in the redesign of their aquaponics building—think greenhouse—featuring a pole and beam design and greatly improved ventilation.
In the long run, the farm would like to build a “birthing barn” to give their animals a safe, quiet, heated shelter in which to give birth. The estimated cost of this barn is $30,000. When asked, Nicks allowed that anyone contributing that amount would likely get to name the barn. Any takers? Please go to www.theurbanfarm.org to learn more about The Urban Farm’s many animal and agricultural programs, and to make a donation.