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Stroll parade canceled, events 'reimagined'

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BRATTLEBORO — One of the biggest events of the year, which draws visitors from all over, has joined the list of cancellations due the coronavirus.

The Strolling of the Heifers parade will not occur in early June as planned and will not be rescheduled. Related events are being "reimagined," according to a statement released Monday.

"Looking ahead, we will explore how we can offer this time-honored tradition to our community while also working with Brattleboro's downtown businesses and our parade partners to make sure there is added benefit to all," Lissa Harris, executive director for Strolling of the Heifers, said in the statement. "We are keenly aware that this pandemic will forever change how we think about gathering and what that means for us all as we explore our various options for 2021. Most importantly, we understand the necessity and value of gathering and celebrating together as a community. We know that our Stroll weekend in 2021 will be a welcomed celebration of our collective courage and resiliency."

Stroll staff anticipate that related events typically held that weekend — such as the Vendor Expo Festival, Tour de Heifer bike ride and farm tours — will likely be rescheduled to new dates later this year. Harris said factors in making rescheduling decisions will involve directives from the state and federal governments regarding large public gatherings.

Her group is reaching out to different participants about their availability and likelihood of their participation.

"Using our promotional power, we will craft an event that focuses on our vendors and provides the strongest opportunity for their recovery," Harris said.

The Slow Living Summit will be held virtually, with speaker panels to occur via Zoom videoconferencing software. Harris said many of the speakers for the summit are already using online platforms for presentations "so this decision seemed like a natural course of action."

Brattleboro Community Television is said to be guiding her group in terms of technical logistics. A timeline and structure for the summit's keynote speaker presentations and panel discussions is expected to be finalized soon.

Windham Grows, a food and farm business accelerator program run by Strolling of the Heifers, is still running. Much of the curriculum now focuses on recovery and resiliency, Harris said.

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"Learning will happen virtually, with video conferencing and webinars until it is safe to gather together in person," she said.

Her group is currently accepting applications for the 2020 food cohort program.

The River Garden building downtown will stay closed as long as Gov. Phil Scott's "Stay Home, Stay Safe" order is in place. Harris said once the order is lifted, staff may return to working in the office.

"We will stay up to date on any state or federal recommendations for the future," she said. "In the meantime, we are actively exploring ways that we can support our local community and our food community as a downtown hub."

Her group plans to keep updating its social media and website pages.

Stroll staff have been closely following the impact of COVID-19 on food- and farm-related businesses, Harris said, adding that they are "heartbroken by the number of food businesses having to shutter their doors, unsure if they will ever reopen. And we are witnessing first hand, in our own hometown of Brattleboro, what this unprecedented event is doing to our downtown businesses and our community. But amid the loss, we also recognize this as a time for new partnerships and an opportunity to re-imagine our organization and its role in supporting local food systems."

Harris said her group is working closely with the town, downtown businesses, and local and statewide economic development and agricultural organizations to brainstorm ideas and a vision for the future.

"We are also taking this time to look at the potency of our advocacy efforts," she said. "Over the last 20 years the issues facing our farmers have become more nuanced, this is a great time to explore some more sophisticated advocacy efforts and partnerships in support of our local food systems. This is the time where we turn our struggles into possibilities, we work with our partners to become even stronger, and we remake our vision in balanced community."

Reach staff writer Chris Mays at cmays@reformer.com and at @CMaysBR on Twitter.


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