Jim Devine is the organizer of the second annual Anderson Valley Goat Festival which will return to Boonville on April 23rd at the Mendocino County Fairgrounds. The Wildflower Show, hosted by Robin Harper, shares the event. Gates open at 10 a.m. Leave your dogs at home, grab the kids, and join the fun. With goats there's always unpredictable entertainment.
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D: Jim! I used to have goats. An Alpine doe and a stinkin' Nubian ram who used to pee on his own head to smell more attractive to the female(!) They loved popcorn and used to break out of their meadow to go stand in front of Arena Theater and wait for popcorn to happen. The amount of goat poo in front of the theater was directly proportional to what time of the night they broke out of the fence. They'd stand there all night, waiting. Eventually, someone took them right out of the pasture! Gone goats! But three months later, they were back! 'Didn't want 'em! I then gave them to a goat herder in Manchester, to add to his grazers and deforesters. I was not a hands-on goat person, putting them to good food use. I just used them to eat the poison oak off the fences.
Jim, why goats?
J: Well, goats are adorable! The impetus really comes from Anderson Valley Foodshed and my desire to create food events that enlighten and entertain. Goats serve as the vehicle for this event as they can bring a lot of variety to the event, from gourmet goat cheese, to homesteaders; adorable pet pygmy goats, to connecting with our culture through food and our Mexican friends in the Valley. Goats have the opportunity to bring all people to the table in such a friendly way.
D: Do you keep goats in your Foodshed?
J: Our local food group is called Anderson Valley Foodshed. It's kind of funny that most people take it very literally and think that there's a building somehow where we're storing the local food bank stuff. But a foodshed is analogous to a watershed in that it's just a way to visualize a complex system. A watershed is all the different streams, tributaries, and rivers that feed into an area. And a foodshed is all the various food the local producers gather, grow, produce, eat and sell. And in the largest term, our foodshed is global, but we're looking at getting people to understand what a local healthy foodshed can do for the community.
D: When did you think to originate a festival for goats?
J: My family and I lived in Trinity County for a few years before moving to Anderson Valley, and there was a local food group up there that was just starting out and I was attracted to it. They were developing, wondering what they were going to do. And my pitch has always been events to bring people together. My first event was an apple pressing party that we had in Trinity County. We had a couple of apple presses, we had music, a potluck... I was hooked at how many people showed up to enjoy it. At that point I wanted to do more fun, local food events.
D: I hear there is a celebrity goat milking contest. Who are your local celebs?
J: Well, let's see... There's Chutney and Beverley, our two main gals in that event...
D: Chutney and Beverley... Goats? Well, I was referring to the human celebs, but I can see that you're fond of your milk producers, all of whom should be given top billing, I agree. But for our human readers, who's gonna be pullin' those udders on the 23rd, anyway?
J: For last year's event, we had Dr. McGhan vs. Deputy Walker vs. Principal Hutchins of the High School, who is my wife! Once again we try to mix it up with a diverse crew. Competitors milk properly with a stanchion. It's a competition in terms of volume over a time period. This year we have Fire Chief Avila, Donna Pearson-Pugh, and rounding it out is Captain Rainbow.
D: I wonder if Captain Rainbow will be costumed as a goat! How many cheese booths when I get to the Fest? I love goat cheese. I want to… eat chevre!
J: We have cheese making workshops as well as keifer and yogurt making workshops, and, for commercial cheese producers: Bodega Cheese, Shamrock Artisan Cheese, and we're still trying to get Pennyroyal on the hook, but they're super busy with their new opening. I believe they'll show up, though. As far as booths are concerned, we have all sorts of goat food: tacos, and a birria cook-off, which was our biggest hit last year. Local chefs and teams enter their birrias. Festival goers can buy a bowl to be a judge. For $10/bowl, you go around and sample the different birrias and vote with your empty bowl, and 75% of the income from that contest will get divided among all the contestant--and then we have first and second prizes for the two most popular birrias.
D: Goats are independent, tricky. They're ruminants with parrot-like focus of the eyeballs. Logan, Jim's son is here with us. He's six years old and has five goats. Any frisbee catchin' goats or trampoline jumpin' goats? Trick goats? What do you have there in the goat talent department? Or do you call it the variety department, since it's Anderson Valley?
J: No, no trick goats, but I encourage folks to bring their trick goats along. I'd like to see the goat anyone could teach to do tricks! This is a funny part of the story: I mentioned earlier that the goat festival didn't start out for me to be about goats. It was really a celebration of local food. Get a model together where we can teach, eat, and have fun. Last year when I put together the first festival, I did not have any goats. I had never had a goat. I would actually say that I was not a goat person. I'm an arborist by trade, and a gardener, which is directly in conflict with goats. I've seen the damage done by goats! My wife was attracted to goats as she's a horse person, and I had said 'no' for years, but at the first annual goat festival, there was a cute Nubian goat, and we got her.
Logan: My friend Rena was also thinking about getting a goat, and then we ended up screaming at Dad to get one.
D: So they're kind of like free puppies outside the supermarket; you can't turn them away? Is it baby goat season right now?
J: Yeah. We have three goat kids right now. It's been a busy year for us. We got into the business of goats. We've milked, made cheese, kidded, we raised some goats to market. So, now we're ready for Goat Fest!
D: Children's events?
J: We got baby goats galore, and one of the big hits for kids is the best-dressed goat parade. So, at noon, just watch for the festivities: clowns, the costume parade, music, ...food. This year we're starting a 4-H program and we'll be advertising that at the Goat Festival and trying to generate some interest.
D: They used to have goats at Tilden Park in Berkeley, at The Little Farm. One day the ranger volunteers filled up three milk bottles with formula, gave them to three children, all under ten, and turned the goats loose. Just when the goats left the gate, we could see it wasn't going to end well. The goats' vigor far outweighed the children's ability to stand firm and hang on tight, leaning into those bottles. The goat kids were hungry and catapulted over the children holding the bottles, aggressively knocking them into the dirt. A lot of bleating and screaming going on, it was a regular milk melee. The children were crying and shaking – screaming in terror, actually. The little goat kids were relentlessly rooting for the nipples on the bottles which were flat on the ground by then with the children who were in fear for their lives.
J: (Laughs) There's a website “I survived goat trauma.” It's real. It's for people who've had bad experiences from petting zoos and that kind of thing, because goats can be fast-moving, inquisitive, indelicate creatures at times. Goats get pretty rambunctious-acting when hungry. Pushy. Demanding.
D: Okay there has to be that other dark side to goats – can't all be fun and games. I hate to bring it up about Goat Fest, but I suppose you have tanners there, goat abattoir, BBQ, and maybe even something about goat dehorning and neutering?
J: Yah, we keep it pretty light. This is not like learning to render at Not-So-Simple Living Fair. It's not like a 4-H event, judging, selling on hoof at auction at the County Fair. No rendering of goats while clowns are dancing out front. We will have more fiber arts, angora wool and looms.
D: I see you've used Nubian goats on this year's Goat Festival t-shirt. Say, for instance, if the AVA was to sponsor a contest to create a new Mendocino County Fair logo. The old logo has an apple, a jackass and I think that's supposed to be a cartoon indian on the logo for the Fairgrounds. Folks suggest a cornucopia with a plethora of each animal, apple, vegetable and maybe even a tractor pouring out of it. Sounds like it's gonna be a busy little logo and we haven't even included the grapes yet. And grapes... are going to want to be in a clustered bunch, don't cha know, just like grapes! Anyway, I was thinking the logo needs to be a little more politically correct. Updated. What kind of goat do you think should be included on the logo?
J: Angora. Nupians are cute. Up until last year I couldn't even find myself thinking that goats were cute. Now, I send my friends goat memes. The sign in front of the Mendocino County Fairgrounds says Wildflower Show, Goat Festival, Beer Festival. Let's just keep it simple with the major Festivals.
D: …of which we need more (events/festivals). I see...maybe replace the cornucopia with everything flowing out of a big beer stein. What other details can you add to the Goat Festival on the 23rd?
J: T-shirts cost $15/ea. Entry is a $5 donation. Buy a $10 empty bowl and you can EAT and participate as a birria judge! Gates open at 10am. Free parking. Juan Pablo is doing the music this year. He's a local teenager in our high school with his own happenin' Mexicali band.
D: If you want to stroll through the goat festival with your own personal goat, bring it along with your pooper scooper. Just don't bring dogs, and do not bring animals with you to leave in the car in the parking lot.
J: Goat fans can like us on Facebook at Anderson Valley Goat Fest, and contact at avgoats@gmail. Also, my other big project this Fall with AV Foodshed, is our Fourth Annual Autumn Fermentation Fair: From Beer to Sauerkraut to Kombucha and more.
D: You're a busy man, Jim Devine!
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Bring a hat, wear your appetite. There could be some sun involved. It's Boonville, after all. Tastefully done and most precocious of all, gone to the goats on April 23rd. We'll try to keep the goats out of the Wildflower Show!
(The Connecting With Local Food series is organized by AV Foodshed and archived on the www.mendocinofoodguide.org website. If you would like to receive weekly email notices of local food events, please send a request to firstname.lastname@example.org.)