BRATTLEBORO -- In a way, the heifers have returned to the barn.
Strolling of the Heifers founder Orly Munzing says she has wanted some kind of a year-round presence on Main Street for a while now.
The very first year Munzing held the now internationally-known Strolling of the Heifers parade, the event was established under the umbrella organization Building a Better Brattleboro, which is the former owner of the Robert H. Gibson River Garden.
About six years ago Munzing spoke with then-BABB Executive Director Andrea Livermore about sharing space in the River Garden, but the idea never got off the ground.
Munzing did not know the Stroll would one day end up at the River Garden, but soon after BABB announced that it was going sell the River Garden, Munzing saw it as the perfect place to take Strolling of the Heifers to the next level.
"I always though Strolling of the Heifers needed a real home on Main Street," Munzing said Friday in the new office in the River Garden. "I feel like we were able to grow and be nourished at our last office in Cotton Mill, and now, like a teenager, we are now ready to leave home."
What started as a one-day parade, grew into a three-day event and is now a year-round organization that promotes local agriculture and food education.
The 2014 June weekend will be the 13th annual Strolling of the Heifers parade.
Strolling of the Heifers officially moved into the River Garden two weeks ago, and the organization has moved its office into the River Garden, started to paint and clean the building, and is starting to bring in programming.
The office is functional and on Friday General Manager Julie Potter was on the phone, checking e-mail messages, sending out packages and setting up events.
Potter said the River Garden is already feeling like home for the group.
"This is more than an office for us," Potter said. "It gives us a presence in the downtown and shows people that this is something we are doing year-round. "
Strolling of the Heifers has already established a brown bag program, bringing in speakers and musicians during the afternoon.
The Windham Regional Career Center horticulture class has agreed to care for the plants in the building and Strolling of the Heifers has established a volunteer ambassador program that brings area residents in to sit at a table to greet visitors and oversee activity.
In the big picture Munzing wants to raise money to install an air conditioning system and build a commercial kitchen which will allow the organization to offer cooking and nutrition classes, and possibly rent out the space for catered events.
She also sees a time when Strolling of the Heifers offers farm tours where visitors to Brattleboro can travel to area farms, meet the farmers and pick up food and then return to the River Garden for cooking classes with area chefs.
"We want this to be a destination for people who care about what they eat and want to learn more about food and where it is grown," she said. "We see Vermont as a leader in supporting sustainable agriculture, and we see this as one of the places where people are going to come to learn more about that. We really feel good about what we have here."
Munzing said the timing for bringing Strolling of the Heifers to Main Street could not better.
Across the country consumers are putting more value into supporting local agriculture and into knowing the farmers that grow and raise the food they eat.
The Stroll already works with Vermont Technical College on a statewide agricultural business plan competition and Community College of Vermont is long time sponsor of the event.
Both colleges will be moving into the newly renovated Brooks House across the street from the River Garden.
"This is the heart of Brattleboro, and this is the place where we should be," Munzing said. "It's a beautiful building, and we hope people will come in and tell us their thoughts.
Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; or 802-254-2311, ext. 279. You can follow Howard on Twitter @HowardReformer.