Little could we have imagined 11 years ago when the first heifers strolled down Main Street that it would become the cultural phenomenon it is today, drawing people from around the country to lil’ ol’ Brattleboro.
But here we are, the Strolling of the Heifers, 12 years running, and bigger and better every year.
What started out as an effort to draw attention to Vermont’s vanishing farms has grown into a festival celebrating sustainability, education, "slow living," ingenuity and all things local, local, local.
The Stroll itself, which starts at 10 a.m., features nearly 70 heifers from farms around the region, as well as mules, donkeys, goats and alpacas. In total, nearly 80 farms, organizations, businesses and schools are participating in the parade. While the Fourth of July and Memorial Day parades are something to marvel at, we don’t think anyone will be offended when we say the Strolling is Brattleboro’s premier parade event of the year. And this year, organizers have asked participants to create a "mashup" between Running of the Bulls and Mardi Gras. We think you’ll be tickled by the results.
But the Strolling of the Heifers is more than just a parade, as those of us who live and work in the region know. It’s also about art and healthy living and crafts and home energy and the working landscape and, yes, thankfully, dairy product such as cheese, milk and ice cream.
In 2002, when the first Strolling took place, Orly Munzing, who was inspired to start the event after a conversation with the late Dwight Miller, never imagined it would become what it is today.
"You know, we’ve come a long way, and a lot of the ideas we talked about 12 years ago are commonplace now, and they get more support all the time," she said one afternoon while looking over the Dwight Miller and Sons Orchard. "There are a lot of positive changes going on. I’m very encouraged about the future."
From the beginning, Munzing saw this as a way to educate people and get them thinking about agriculture, health, obesity, sustainability and development.
"I knew we had to do more, and when these people went home they had to take something with them, and hopefully think about the choices they were making in their own communities."
The Strolling was used to raise money for microloans to farmers, educational grants, a business plan competition and more.
Over the years many of the programs Munzing helped start have spun off to take on lives of their own. She wanted to get more teachers and schools involved in school gardens, and in the early years she provided funding to bring classes out on to area farms. Today the Agencies of Agriculture and Education support farm-to- school programs, and Vermont is a leader in the movement.
The event also brings thousands of people to downtown Brattleboro; people who would otherwise have no reason to visit. Hopefully they will drop a few dollars at local businesses and take a little bit of Brattleboro (and not just memories) home with them.
It’s events like the Strolling of Heifers that puts small towns around the country on the map. We would not hesitate to say that Munzing and her dedicated crew of volunteers have helped raised the profile of Brattleboro and put it in a better light.
While Strolling day might be a little bit of a hassle for those of us who work, play and live here, it’s only one day out of the year, and we should reflect on all the good it has brought to Brattleboro and Vermont. We should also remember all of the good that has spread out from Brattleboro due to the Strolling of the Heifers.
It’s something to be proud of, and everyone who works to make it happen should be congratulated. It’s the least we can do.