(submitted photo)
(submitted photo)

BRATTLEBORO -- Strolling of the Heifers founder Orly Munzing this week received the 2013 Vermont Community Leadership Award from the Vermont Council on Rural Development. Munzing was honored at the end of the council's 2013 Summit on the Future of Vermont's Working Landscape held Tuesday at Vermont Technical College in Randolph, Vt.

The Vermont Community Leadership Award is presented each year to Vermonters who exemplify dedication, integrity and honorable service to community and to rural Vermont, and who have had a transformational effect on their communities, the organization says.

At the event Tuesday Gov. Peter Shumlin, House Speaker Shap Smith and Agriculture Secretary Chuck Ross talked about the commitment Vermont is making, and will continue to make, to strengthen agriculture and forestry.

"It is really humbling to stand there before 350 leaders in Vermont agriculture and be recognized," Munzing said. "It's a big deal."

In 2001, Munzing founded Strolling of the Heifers, a Main Street parade to celebrate agriculture and to connect people with local farmers. Strolling of the Heifers is now a year-round advocacy and educational organization that promotes local food and sustainable farming.

"This award really belongs to all of the volunteers who helped grow Strolling of the Heifers through all these years," Munzing said. "This award is for this amazing community that has come together to make this event grow."

The Vermont Council on Rural Development is a non-profit organization that works across a variety issues facing rural communities in Vermont, including agriculture, energy, development, broadband access.

The summit this week was the second the council held to discuss the Working Lands Enterprise Fund, an initiative the Legislature took on to support agriculture and forestry. In two years about $2.4 million has been dedicated to the fund to support entrepreneurs and small business owners who are trying to create and sustain businesses tied to agriculture and forestry.

"That's what the stroll has been trying to do all these years," Munzing said. "We want to bring people together to preserve Vermont heritage and open land. It felt good to have southern Vermont recognized because of what we were doing down here to support that. That is why we are all here."

Vermont Council on Rural Development Executive Director Paul Costello spoke at the second Strolling of the Heifers parade in 2002 and he said Munzing has been working all of these years to ensure that Vermont's working landscape remains viable and strong.

"I have been following Orly one way or the other over the past 12 years," Costello said. "We've seen the good work they've been doing to support agriculture in Windham County."

The Vermont Council on Rural Development Community Leadership Award is given out every year to leaders from a variety of disciplines.

In 2008 Robert McBride and Richard Ewald were given the award for the development and historical preservation work they did in Rockingham, and past recipients include Edgar May of Springfield and The Center for an Agricultural Economy in Hardwick.

"Orly is a spark plug for conversation," said Costello. "This award goes out to people who inspire others. We chose Orly because of what she has been able to accomplish."

In December 2010 the Vermont Council on Rural Development held a summit to talk about establishing a state fund to support the working landscape and the seeds for the Working Lands Enterprise Fund were planted that day.

The Legislature approved it the following year.

Costello said supporters are looking for another $15 million over the next five years for the fund.

"Three years ago we started this conversation and look at where we are now," Costello said. "It is now time to look at the next stage of policy and build upon the framework we have been able to develop for the Working Lands Enterprise Board."

Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at hwtisman@reformer.com; or 802-254-2311, ext. 279. You can follow Howard on Twitter @HowardReformer.