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Growing an idea for an independent project at Concord High, with goats

  • Newly-named Nibbles works on some plants at the indoor courtyard at Concord High School. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Nibbles gets a pet from Concord High School student Brenna McNamara even after he tried to take a small bite of her hand earlier in the day. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Sophie Johnson (left) and Brenna McNamara watch over the newly-named goat Nibbles in the courtyard in Concord High School on Tuesday October 16, 2017. Nibbles was named by the pair for his wanting to bite McNamara. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Sophie Johnson (left) and Brenna McNamara watch over the newly-named goat Nibbles in the courtyard in Concord High School on Tuesday October 16, 2017. Nibbles was named by the pair for his wanting to bite McNamara. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Sophie Johnson (left) and Brenna McNamara walk around the courtyard in Concord High School on Tuesday October 16, 2017. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Sophie Johnson (left) and Brenna McNamara watch over the newly named goat Nibbles in the courtyard in Concord High School on Monday, Oct. 16, 2017. Nibbles was named by the pair after he attempted to bite McNamara. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Newly named goat Linda works on clearing out the courtyard at Concord High School on Monday as part of an independent study by two seniors. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Sophie Johnson looks over at newly-named Bert (left) and Linda as they work on clearing out the indoor courtyard at Concord High School. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Newly named goat Bert works on clearing out the indoor courtyard at Concord High School on Monday, Oct. 16, 2017, as part of an independent study program by two seniors. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Brenna McNamara watches over Linda and Bert as they walk around the courtyard at Concord High School on Monday, Oct. 16, 2017. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Concord High student Brenna McNamara pets newly named Nibbles at the indoor courtyard where she and fellow student Sophie Johnson are working on an independent study program on agricultural sustainability. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff



Monitor staff
Tuesday, October 17, 2017

It was like Christmas morning for Concord High seniors Sophie Johnson and Brenna McNamara. Neither had been able to sleep the night before, anticipating their delivery early Monday.

And before dawn, as they stood in the crisp fall at the high school, their delivery came – three tiny, yet-to-be-named Nigerian Dwarf goats.

But this was no time for play. Nibbles, Linda and Bert – Johnson and McNamara named them soon after their arrival – had a lot of work to do chomping away at the overgrown weeds and poison ivy inside an enclosed courtyard in the middle of the high school.

With the help of their adviser and a school janitor, Johnson and McNamara unloaded the goats and escorted the school’s newest kids to their classroom for the day. Finally, Johnson and McNamara’s independent study on Sustainability in Agriculture was taking form.

The plan for the independent study was to use the goats to clear out the vegetation inside the courtyard, so the two young women can plant a cover crop before winter to change the gravelly, depleted soil into a nitrogen-rich growing area.

Once the goats finished their work by the end of the day, the pair began the task of getting the soil ready for a spring planting.

“The purpose of planting a cover crop is to get the nutrients back into the soil, which is pretty degraded right now. So planting alfalfa and hairy vetch – which are a nutrient-rich plants – when they decompose over the winter, it reintroduces nitrogen into the soil,” Johnson said.

But the goats were helping with that, as well.

“We are also using the, um, goat droppings as another fertilizer,” McNamara noted.

“Nibbles here, is here to help,” Johnson piped in, after the goat was named for trying to bite McNamara.

Both students are looking to be environmental studies majors when they head to college next fall and asked Concord High adviser Lise Bofinger for help with an independent study program.

“In the spring they designed an independent study on sustainable agriculture. This fall we have begun to give some focus to our work,” Bofinger said in an email. “We are reading a book, Growing a Revolution by David R. Montgomery. Then the girls decided on a project right here on the grounds of Concord High. I have seen many projects started and abandoned. I wanted to offer them a real challenge as well as give them something that needed attention. I thought of this interior courtyard. Many people have attempted projects over the years, so this space is quite needy.”

Johnson and McNamara had to come up with a yearlong plan and present it to Bofinger, then to Principal Tom Sica and the faculty heads.

“So our goal is to be able to grow produce that we’ll be able to consume, instead of going to the grocery store and buying an apple that was made across the county and it takes lots of fossil fuel and transportation to get that food here, whereas with our garden that we’ll grow this spring, we can just grab food right out of the garden,” McNamara said. It’s really hands-on, and it feels really good to be making a change and actually doing something in our independent study.’’

The sight of goats eating in the courtyard drew attention from nearby classrooms, and Johnson hoped it would draw more attention to the idea of agriculture sustainability.

“This day in part is great because we are getting the word out to our school community and hopefully to the Concord community about how finding ways to be more sustainable can be fun, can be fulfilling,’’ Johnson said.

By the end of the day, after the goats headed home to Riverbank Farm in Salisbury, Johnson and McNamara had a sense of accomplishment, even on their first day.

“Students can do it; it’s not just some old dude,” McNamara said. “We’re here, we can do stuff. It’s awesome.”