Drivers traveling along I-90 near E. 55th could experience mild whiplash as they crane their necks to see the sheep grazing on the roadside this summer. It's not the most common sight along the lakefront, and the story behind it is no less unusual.
Michael Fleming first heard of the idea when he was studying Urban Planning at the Levin College of Urban Affairs at Cleveland State University. The mayor of Curitiba, Brazil had used sheep to mow the city's vast parkland, he found out.
"They brought in shepherds for parkland because it was cheaper than using machines," says Fleming. "With large amounts of land, it just makes sense."
A few months ago, when Fleming was hired as Executive Director of the St. Clair Superior Development Corporation, he finally had a chance to import the idea from South America to Cleveland. A flock of 12 sheep are now grazing along North Marginal Road just west of the Quay 55 apartment building. They are tended by volunteers and students from nearby St. Martin De Porres High School.
"About 95 percent of our neighbors think it's cool, and five percent are afraid they'll get picked off by teenagers or coyotes," says Fleming, who has fielded calls from as far away as Detroit about the program. "We wanted to see how it would work on large vacant parcels, and if we could save the city any money on mowing costs."
So far, the Urban Sheep Grazing program has worked out well, with the sheep, guarded by a feisty llama, seemingly content to graze all day in their shaggy lakefront field. Visitors regularly stop by to take pictures and show their kids.
The sheep are loaned from the Spicy Lamb Farm in the Cuyahoga Valley through a new entity called Urban Shepherds. Fleming thinks expanding the program could bring down costs and make it feasible as a mowing alternative; he hopes to have the numbers to back his hypothesis up by the end of the summer.
Source: Michael Fleming
Writer: Lee Chilcote