By John Ramos

SANTA ROSA (KPIX) — It’s time to recycle that old Christmas tree but a group of kids in the North Bay have discovered a way to do it by combining people’s environmental concern with their love of animals. It’s paying off big time.

The Independence 4-H club in Sonoma County enjoys doing community service projects but, lately, their funding has been suppressed by the pandemic.

“Most of our fundraisers, because of COVID, had to be canceled,” said 16-year-old club member Clay McDonell. “We were running low on funds so we came up with this idea.”

That idea was to collect people’s old Christmas trees and what they’re doing with the old trees has captured the community’s attention.

To their own surprise, the 4H kids have found another group of “kids” who are happy to take the trees off their hands. It turns out that goats don’t just like Christmas trees, they flat-out love them.

“Yesterday, when I was carrying it out there, they started biting on it while I was still carrying it,” said club member Joseph Harriman. “And I was like, huh? Because they really like it.”

They’re actually pretty good for the animals, which came as a surprise to 10-year-old club member Caleb Harriman.

“Who would have thought?” he said. “Who has gone to Google to search ‘Do goats like Christmas trees?’ Who searches that up?”

Of course, it was handy that club leader Mindy Wright just happened to own a small goat farm in Santa Rosa.

Now the 4-Hers have struck gold, collecting almost 100 trees this first weekend, with a $15 to $20 dollar donation for each. It’s rapidly becoming their most successful fundraiser ever and club mom Jennie Harriman said she thinks the experience is teaching her kids to be creative and resilient.

“One of the mottos of 4-H is to make the best better,” Harriman said. “And so, at this time when we all have these Christmas trees, to be able to recycle them while feeding animals at the same time is just totally in line with the 4-H thoughts.”

As they get more trees, they’ll need more goats so the group plans to start distributing excess trees to goat farms around the county. From there, who knows how far this new approach to recycling could go?

“Maybe some other people will start to do this too. Seems like a good fundraiser,” said Clay McDonell, who suspects this may just be the beginning.

The club still taking orders for its Sunday, Jan. 9, collection. People who live in the Santa Rosa/Sebastopol area and want to donate can get more information at the club website independence4h.com