Hungry herd on duty at Chicago O’Hare

Llama on duty at ORD - 2013


They’re back. They’re hungry. And they’re not picky eaters.

A herd of 37 goats, sheep, llamas and burros have been hired by Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport to munch on poison ivy, noxious weeds and other unwanted vegetation along creeks, streams and roadway right-of-ways on airport property.

Part of the Chicago Department of Aviation’s (CDA) Sustainable Vegetation Management initiative for O’Hare, the critters are on loan from Settlers Pond, an animal rescue facility in Beecher, Ill.

A herd of about 25 animals was on duty last year from July through November eating unwanted vegetation. That helped the airport cut back on the use of emission-producing equipment and limited the use of toxic herbicides on some of the airport’s 8,000 acres of land.

This year, up to 120 acres of O’Hare land difficult to maintain with traditional landscaping equipment has been set aside for all-they-can-eat grazing. The herd, which spends evenings in transport vans nearby the grazing land, will stay at O’Hare until the weather gets too cold for the animals to access vegetation.

As before, all the sites where the animals graze are in areas far away from or separated from the airfield by security fencing.

Which means we shouldn’t be hearing any stories about take-offs or landings being delayed at O’Hare by a jackass running around on the runway.

At least two other U.S. airports have had animals help out with landscape management.

San Francisco International Airport has a herd of goats come by each year to assist with weed control and in 2012 a herd of 91 sheep and 10 goats participated help control vegetation at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

(My story about weed-eating at O’Hare International Airport first appeared on USA TODAY)

Goats getting gardening jobs at O’Hare Airport


Courtesy George Eastman House via Creative Commons

As early as a month from now, a herd of about 25 goats – along with a shepherd – will arrive at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport and be put to work munching unwanted vegetation (i.e. weeds) from up to 120 acres of airport-owned land that is difficult to get to with traditional landscaping equipment.

O’Hare already has beehives, an aeroponic vegetable and herb garden inside the terminal and a host of other green initiatives underway, but last September it put out a request for bids seeking “sustainable vegetation management grazing services.”

The two-year, $100,000 contract was awarded to Central Commissary Holdings, LLC, which operates a restaurant in the city and keeps a small herd of goats nearby.

O’Hare is not the first airport to employ goats. Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, San Francisco International Airport and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport have also hired goats and/or sheep to munch on unwanted vegetation.

And there are plenty of benefits:

Having goats eat weeds, poison ivy, and invasive plant species not only decreases landscape maintenance costs, reduces the use of heavy equipment and saves all that fuel that would be used for operating the mowing machinery, it provides an alternative to toxic herbicides and will be a fun way to draw attention to the airport’s environmental awareness.

Free flowers at Heathrow Airport

Heathrow flowers two

London’s Heathrow Airport & the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) have put together some lovely traditional English gardens to welcome passengers and will be handing out free seed packets to travelers so they can start their own gardens.

The terminal approach areas outside Terminals 3, 4 and 5 have been transformed into a living art installation by Tony Smith, winner of three Royal Horticultural Society best in show awards and gold at RHS Chelsea, RHS Hampton Court, RHS Tatton Park and Gardeners’ World Live Flower Shows.

Heathrow flower one

The special gardens will be blooming through May 25 and are in honor of England’s National Gardening Week (April 15 – 21) and the Chelsea Flower Show (May 21 – 25).

Inside the airport, over 170 volunteers wearing Wellington boots and gardening aprons will be welcoming arriving passengers, dispensing gardening advice and handing out 20,000 packets of seeds.

Airport restaurants will also have special flower-themed menu items, such as native lobster with elderflower foam, pea shoots and violets from Gordon Ramsay’s Plane Food and spring salads with edible flowers from “rhubarb”.

Worried about leaving your plants alone when you travel? Experts at the Royal Horticultural Society say most houseplants will tolerate being alone and untended to for a few days, but if you’ll be away for more than a week:

*Move houseplants and outdoor containers to a sheltered, shady site outdoors to stop them drying out as quickly.

*Re-pot pot-bound plants. If they’re too crammed in, they will dry out quickly. Choose containers with integral reservoirs and incorporate water absorbent gel into the compost.

*Give plants a good soak before leaving them, but don’t leave them standing in water as this can lead to them suffering from over watering.

*Ask neighbors or friends if they can check whether the pots need watering while you’re away. If you can, give them a quick tour before leaving to explain what is likely to need attention and what isn’t.

*Consider installing an automatic watering system (available at garden centers and DIY shops) for patio pots and greenhouses.

Gardening at Chicago’s O’Hare and Midway Airports

A Green Gardens exhibit is on view at O’Hare and Midway International Airports through Monday, April 9 that “re-purposes” some of the floral displays that were on view at the Chicago Flower and Garden Show held at Chicago’s Navy Pier in March.

A series of window façade replicas with window box floral displays from Chicagoland nonprofits, are featured at both airports and, at O’Hare, there’s a replica of the White House Kitchen Garden, with raised beds to show off the ideas of growing fresh, organic, local food that are part of the First Lady Michelle Obama’s childhood anti-obesity initiative.

Vertical hydroponic gardens, which demonstrate how vertical gardens can provide compact and efficient growing space, reduce noise and improve indoor air quality, are on display at both airports.

At Midway, the Green Gardens exhibit is located on the upper level ticketing area. At O’Hare, the exhibit is in Terminal 2, post-security, next to the Kids on the Fly children’s play area, and in Terminal 3, between Concourses H/K and L, post-security.

Photos courtesy: Chicago Department of Aviation (CDA)/kp