Visitors driving, flying in order to ‘Stroll'
BRATTLEBORO -- The word "local" -- with a strong emphasis on local food and local farms -- comes up often on the Strolling of the Heifers website.
But that doesn't mean the crowd assembling later next week for Brattleboro's Strolling parade and related events will be exclusively local.
Whether they're lured by past Stroll experiences or by the online promotion of a "world-famous" but still small-town parade, some have planned long trips by car or plane to experience Brattleboro's purposefully slower version of the Running of the Bulls.
"We love the celebration of small-scale, sustainable living in community," said Steve Werthman, who is flying north from Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., for the June 8 Stroll. "The parade with the local school marching bands, farm floats and decorated cows is the best."
Werthman is taking the three-hour flight with his wife, Kathy. They are no strangers to Vermont or to Brattleboro, having attended Strolling of the Heifers two years ago.
The couple last year returned for Stroll events and for the preceding Slow Living Summit in downtown Brattleboro.
"The festival is also a lot of fun with the food, music, people, local crafts and green products," Werthman said in an e-mail to the Reformer. "The Summit workshops and plenaries are amazingly informative and refreshing. We had great interactions with the presenters and the other attendees."
Werthman added that he and his wife "enjoy the feel and spirit of Brattleboro."
"Vermont in general is a piece of heaven to us -- a real ‘thin place' with its unique natural beauty, amazing food, wonderfully eclectic and down-to-earth people and decidedly progressive politics," he said. "The whole ethos makes us feel it is where we belong. We spent our honeymoon in Vermont and have been returning to visit regularly ever since (just not in the winter)."
Unlike Werthman, Meg Little Reilly is intimately familiar with Vermont winters: She describes herself as a "displaced Vermonter" and a Brattleboro Union High School graduate who's now living in Washington, D.C., with her husband, Dan, and their 15-month-old daughter, Josephine.
The family will be making the trip to Brattleboro for the Stroll via car, a trip that Reilly expects "will take about 10 hours with the requisite stops for a squirmy baby."
"We will be visiting my parents, Joe and Anne Little, who also live in town," Reilly said in an e-mail. "This will only be my second time attending the Stroll, but the first for my husband and daughter. Josephine is wild about animals, so I'm thrilled to take her."
Reilly said she earned a bachelor's degree at the University of Vermont and worked as a producer at Vermont Public Radio before relocating to Washington for graduate school.
She had worked as deputy director of communications at the White House Budget Office until last year, when she gave birth to her daughter. Her husband also works in the Obama administration.
But Reilly also is happy to give her young family a taste of the Stroll.
"The Strolling of the Heifers embodies all of the qualities that make me proud to be from Vermont -- a love of community, respect for the land and an awareness of the impact our choices have," she said. "I'm so excited to share it with my family and, of course, to be back in beautiful southern Vermont in the summer."
That the Stroll acts as a sort of homecoming event comes as no surprise to event organizers.
"We're always told about grandparents in the Brattleboro area who have a full house of children or grandchildren, or people who have a house full of visiting friends," said Martin Langeveld, Strolling of the Heifers marketing director.
But Langeveld also said the Stroll organization's strong commitment to local foods -- including its "Locavore Index" ranking the availability and consumption of local food in each state -- is gaining attention far beyond Vermont.
"The thing that probably has had the most impact in terms of putting us on the larger map is the Locavore Index, which got covered on news sites in many states, if not most states, all across the U.S.," he said.
Langeveld also said the event's website, www.strollingoftheheifers.com, is seeing hits "from all 50 states and abroad." It all adds up to a large contingent of out-of-town visitors on Stroll weekend.
"When we did a raffle a few years ago in collaboration with (Building a Better Brattleboro), people had to fill in their zip code on the raffle tickets," Langeveld said.
"When we tabulated all of them, it turned out we had visitors to Brattleboro during Stroll weekend from 390 different zip codes in 26 states," he said. "We haven't repeated that in the last couple of years, but I think that helps paint the picture."
Adding her zip code to the Stroll guest book this year will be Allison Mozdian of Wyoming, Pa. She and her boyfriend, Marc, will make the five-hour drive from northeastern Pennsylvania for their first Strolling of the Heifers.
Mozdian didn't learn about the Stroll online; rather, she saw an advertisement for the event during her first visit to Vermont last year.
"I have always adored cows more than the average individual. So when I saw the ad, I clearly geeked out with excitement and determined with Marc that we would be attending the next Strolling," Mozdian said in an e-mail.
"I cannot wait to once again experience the feeling of community one instantly picks up on throughout Vermont, not to mention the love residents have for Mother Earth," she said. "It is truly intoxicating and helps me maintain a smidge of hope for the planet's future."
Mike Faher can be reached at email@example.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.
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