Here's a tip for aspiring creatives in Detroit: If you're planning to open a business that may not be totally legit, don't tell the New York Times about it, as one goat farmer has learned the hard way.
Mark Spitznagel is a hedge-fund manager who had a grand idea for the city: Bring in some goats to help clear out overgrown lots in Brightmoor, a westside neighborhood that has seen better days.
Usually anything to do with urban farming in Detroit isn't newsworthy because it's been done here forever (with varying levels of success), but the NYT latches on to anything going on in Detroit these days so they were all ears when Spitznagel described his plan.
The goats, which will number as many as 60 this summer, have come from Mr. Spitznagel's farmstead, Idyll Farms, in Northport, Mich. When Mr. Spitznagel is not busy managing investments for his 15 or so clients, which include institutions and sovereign wealth funds, he tends to a business rearing goats and making cheese.
Mr. Spitznagel will enlist the help of the community — paying previously unemployed adults and enlisting the help of local youths to herd the baby goats — and he plans to build portable housing for the goats in addition to pens and electric fencing. At the end of the summer, Mr. Spitznagel said, he will sell the goats to Detroit butchers and give the proceeds back to the community.
There was one minor glitch: Spitznagel hadn't cleared his plan with the city of Detroit. Within a day of the NYT piece being spread all over, the goat farm was shut down because of ordinances that prohibit goats from grazing on public property.
Spitznagel appealed to the city, but was denied. Now the NYT reports that 18 of the goats will be sold to butchers immediately, instead of at the end of their planned grazing cycle.
This is the fastest I've seen the mayor's office, particularly in this new administration, spring to action on anything — and it's ridiculous. For goats? In one neighborhood?
Meanwhile the city is on its umpteenth blight-removal plan in the last six years ("We're really going to get it done this time, we promise!" — Duggan) and the same houses in my neighborhood that have been tagged for removal under the Bing administration are still sitting there. Detroit! We know our top priorities!