Renovating the River Garden


BRATTLEBORO >> A Main Street mainstay is looking mighty good after about $300,000 worth of renovations.

"We, as Stroll, see ourselves honestly as stewards of the River Garden," said Orly Munzing, founder and executive director of Strolling of the Heifers. "I see it as a building for the community and we're just stewards of it, trying to make it better for the community."

She said people should come and visit.

Strolling of the Heifers purchased the building from Building A Better Brattleboro two-and-a-half years ago. The downtown organization has since changed its name to the Downtown Brattleboro Alliance.

A new heating and air exchange system has been installed inside the River Garden.

"This building did not have proper heating," said Munzing. "No cooling whatsoever."

An educational kitchen also was put in. A farm-to-plate apprenticeship program trains people with limited means, Munzing said.

"Each cohort will be three months," she said. "After three months, the hope is to have them fully employed."

The last group graduated in September and all its participants are now fully employed, Munzing said. A new group will begin on July 5. The goal is to host three each year.

The kitchen is used for events and cooking demonstrations for the public, too.

And there's a whole other level down below that was remodeled and handicap accessible via a lift. That's where the Stroll's office is.

"It's very nice for us," Munzing said.

Windham Grows, a new program which had a soft launch, also will use the basement. Strolling of the Heifers received funding through the Windham County Economic Development Program to start Windham Grows.

WCEDP promotes projects in the region with money obtained in a settlement between the state of Vermont and Entergy, the owner of the shutdown power plant Vermont Yankee in Vernon. The idea is to create more jobs since 600 were expected to be lost with the closure of the plant.

Windham Grows is "a hatchery, where we prove wrap-around services to participating small businesses in the program," said Munzing. "We will be in full gear in September."

Available to those businesses will be assistance around accounting, legal, marketing, web design and business planning. The process is expected to last six to nine months for each business.

All the renovations were possible through a mortgage with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and grants from the department, but also with assistance from the Thompson Trust and donations from the community.

"We're still raising money," said Munzing.

The group has given new life to the River Garden, providing daily events and renting out the space to other groups. A lecture program called Brown Bag Lunch offers afternoon talks and workshops on everything from gardening to music to trash disposal.

Happening this weekend during the Stroll, a national bread baking competition will be held in the building. Spirits sampling and specialty food will be available there too.

The Strolling of the Heifers parade, which begins at 10 a.m. on Saturday, will move past the building.

Contact Chris Mays at or 802-254-2311, ext. 273.


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