Come celebrate Vermont farm life at the Strolling of the Heifers Parade on Saturday, June 2, at 10:00 a.m. sharp. Watch up to 100 flower-bedecked heifers stroll up Main Street, followed by other farm animals, floats, bands and tractors.
As the parade ends, the crowd tags along to the Brattleboro Common and Retreat Grounds, where the Slow Living Expo provides 11 acres of food, fun, entertainment and dozens of exhibits and activities for the day, from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. No dogs, please, at the parade or at the Expo.
It’s all part of Stroll Weekend, highlighting rural life and local food. Events begin on Friday afternoon, June 1, from 5:30 – 8:30 p.m. with the Gallery Walk and Street Festival.
This year’s 2018 Culinary Centerpiece is the Great New England Bundt Cake Baking Competition. Finals will be on Friday, June 1. King Arthur Flour sponsors this event. Local celebrity “foodie” judges will choose the winner.
On Sunday, June 3, from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., the Marina Restaurant offers the Famous Farmers Breakfast. You may want to participate in the Tour de Heifer, a challenging dirt road bicycle ride of 15, 30, or 60 miles. Also available is a family-friendly three-mile Round Mountain hike. Or perhaps guided farm tours at five area farms are more to your liking.
“This celebratory weekend brings the whole community together,” said Orly Munzing, founder and executive director of Strolling of the Heifers. “There is truly something for everyone.”
More than a parade—it’s a moo-vement
The Strolling of the Heifers Weekend is preceded by the Slow Living Summit, which runs this year from May 31 to June 1, in downtown Brattleboro. The summit is presented by Windham Grows, part of the Stroll’s year-round work to encourage innovation and entrepreneurship in farm and food businesses. The theme of this year’s Slow Living Summit is “The Future of Food Entrepreneurship: How can you create and grow a resilient food business that affects your community in a positive way, while supporting your family?”
“Strolling of the Heifers is more than a parade,” Munzing said. “It’s become a movement. We want to connect people to healthy local food and to those who produce that food. Everything we do supports the development of stronger local food systems and resilient, connected communities.”
Other programs the Strolling of the Heifers organization runs include the Farm Food Business Plan Competition, Micro-loans for Farmers, Beginning Farmer Apprenticeships and most recently, the Farm-to-Table Apprenticeship program, initiated in 2015, which seeks to recruit, train, and place formerly unemployed or underemployed individuals into permanent, full-time employment in the culinary field.
The Stroll also publishes the “Strolling of the Heifers Locavore Index,” which ranks the 50 states, plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, in terms of their commitment to local foods.
Weekdays at noon the Strolling of the Heifers, located in the Robert H. Gibson River Garden building, 157 Main Street in downtown Brattleboro, invites the public to attend their Brown Bag Lunch events—hour-long programs in which musicians or speakers present entertaining and informative sessions. You can bring your lunch. Those interested in making a presentation should stop in at the Stroll’s River Garden office, or call 802-246-0982, or email email@example.com. The Stroll also offers wall space, the Gallery at the Garden, for art exhibitions. Additionally, the River Garden is available for rental as an event space.
Strolling of the Heifers had its beginnings 21 years ago in a walk Munzing and her husband Richard took on a logging trail through the orchards of their neighbor, Dwight Miller.
“I said to Richard, ‘We’ve enjoyed these trails for seventeen years,’ “ Munzing related. “ ‘We’ve cross-country skied on them, walked and biked with the kids. We’ve enjoyed the beautiful view. The Miller family works so hard. We should see if we can help.’ ”
The next time Munzing saw Miller, she asked him about helping.
“If you really like what you see,” he said, “then tell your friends to support local farms, or in 10 years, this will all be gone.”
So Munzing began to think about the best way to get the word out.
“I come from an entrepreneurial family, so it’s in my blood,” she said. “You always have to think one level beyond. I gave a dinner for local business people and asked my guests, ‘What do we have that no one else has?’ The answer was the Holstein-Friesian Association, in other words, black-and-white cows.”
It was a light-bulb moment, Munzing said. In 1971, she had visited Pamplona, Spain, where the annual running of the bulls takes place.
“What if, instead of bulls, it was cows?” she said. “What if, instead of running, they strolled? People could see local agriculture up close. Everyone loved the idea. It captured people’s imagination.”
Miller made a presentation to Building a Better Brattleboro, an organization whose mission was revitalizing downtown. (The Strolling of the Heifers operated under the BABB non-profit umbrella when it presented its first parade and festival in 2002.) Miller told them,“In June my little blonde neighbor is going to march a bunch of heifers up Main Street.”
“That information appeared in the Brattleboro Reformer,” Munzing said, “in a tiny paragraph of maybe three or four sentences in a longer article. But the wire services picked it up, and we were getting calls from all over. Forty people showed up for the first organizational meeting at the River Garden.
“From that original group of volunteers,” Munzing added, “over half are still involved.”
In 2013, the Strolling of the Heifers purchased the River Garden building from BABB. Shortly thereafter, BABB changed its name to the Downtown Brattleboro Alliance.
After the success of the first parade, Munzing looked for ways to keep local agriculture in the forefront of people’s awareness, both capturing their imagination and educating them.
“We started programs in the schools,” she said, “providing little grants to teachers to teach children about where their food comes from. Each year we have addressed a different need, developing a new program where necessary. Always, though, the goal is to bring attention to local farmers while educating people about food and developing trained workers in the agricultural/culinary field. We want Vermont to be the food capital of New England.”
The lead sponsors of the Stroll’s parade and festival are Commonwealth Dairy, Green Mountain Creamery and Breakthru Beverage Group. To view a list of the many additional sponsors of Strolling of the Heifers, visit the website: www.strollingoftheheifers.com/sponsors/. On the navigation bar at the top of the website, select “Sponsorship,” then “Our Sponsors.”
See you at the Stroll.
Photos courtesy of Strolling of the Heifers.