BRATTLEBORO—Fifteen years ago, the people of the Brattleboro area were treated to an unusual sight — a parade of flower-bedecked heifer calves led by future farmers strolling up Main Street.
What was a curiosity that attracted national media attention in 2002 is now a tradition in 2017 — one that draws tens of thousands of people to Brattleboro. And while the young cows are still the center of attention, the Strolling of the Heifers has grown into a weekend full of food and fun.
The 16th annual Strolling of the Heifers Weekend takes place June 2, 3, and 4, and organizers promise many special surprises for the occasion.
The centerpiece of the weekend is the Strolling of the Heifers Parade, which starts promptly at 10 a.m. on Saturday, June 3.
The parade’s theme is “Dance to the MOO-sic,” and parade units will creatively reflect the theme. The heifer calves again lead the parade and will be followed by other farm animals, tractors, bands, floats, and more.
The crowd then follows the parade up Main Street to the all-day Slow Living Expo to enjoy food, family fun, entertainment, and exhibits. The Expo stretches over two sites and 11 acres on the Brattleboro Common and the Brattleboro Retreat grounds.
Supporting family farms
Strolling founder and executive director Orly Munzing says the primary mission of Strolling of the Heifers is “to support family farms and connect people with the food they eat.”
However, over the past few years, the mission of Strolling has expanded. It purchased the River Garden in downtown Brattleboro for use as a year-round headquarters, and is also focusing on growing the economy — specifically, statewide agricultural production, processing, and distribution that annually generate $4 billion and 13 percent of all jobs in Vermont.
In a similar vein, the organization has received grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Economic Development Administration for a “Windham Grows” small business hatchery that helps startup and early-stage employers with development support.
A farm-to-table apprenticeship program, for its part, is training unemployed or underemployed people for full-time jobs in the fields of baking, butchering, and cheese-making.
“Attaining skills,” Munzing says, “will help someone attain more pay.”
At the Slow Living Expo, besides meeting the heifers up close, visitors will find makers of many specialty foods, along with craftspeople, green building, and home energy specialists, as well as healthy living and woodlands exhibitors. There are three major stages offering entertainment, and a nonstop trapeze artists show by the New England Center for Circus Arts.
New to the Expo this year will be some amusement rides for kids on the Common. Visitors will also enjoy Goat Olympics, featuring goats from Adams Farm in Wilmington, and a round-robin human foosball tournament. Human foosball is played in an enclosed arena with players required to hold on to sliding bars while trying to score goals with a soccer ball.
The MOOver cow-themed buses will be on-hand to shuttle the public from Main Street to both Expo sites and the Retreat Farm for a free, air-conditioned, handicapped accessible alternative to walking.
The buses will make a loop with stops at the Common, The Retreat Grounds, The Retreat Farm/Childrens’ Farm & Forest, Grafton Cheese Store, and A Candle in the Night on Main Street. Look for the MOOver signs at the designated bus stops. Buses will leave each stop about every 10 minutes.
An array of activities
Munzing says the money raised during Strolling of the Heifers weekend, largely through business sponsorships, supports the Stroll’s year-round programs at its River Garden headquarters in downtown Brattleboro.
Here is the full list of Strolling of the Heifers Weekend highlights:
• Gallery Walk and the finals of the Great New England Fruit Pie Competition — Friday evening, June 2 from 5:30 to 9 p.m. Main Street will be shut down between Elliot and High streets for a three-hour party with musicians, clowns, and street vendors. The River Garden will host the finals of its pie competition, including public tasting to determine the People’s Choice award winner. There will also be a tasting of spirits and beer from Vermont distillers and brewers.
• Farm Art — an exhibit of farm-themed art by Albert Maguire, at the River Garden Gallery during Stroll Weekend and continuing for the month of June.
• The Strolling of the Heifers Parade — Saturday morning, June 3, at 10 a.m.
• The Slow Living Expo — all day (9 a.m. to 4 p.m.) on Saturday, June 3. Among other things, the Expo will showcase: Beef & Cheese: Cooking with Local Chefs; Antique tractors on the Common; a Home Energy Village; a Crafts Village; the Woodlands Exhibit; Goat Olympics; the Healthy Living Village; entertainment; and a Food Truck Extravaganza with food from around the world.
• Farmers’ Breakfast — Sunday, June 4, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. The Stroll’s annual showcase of natural and organic breakfast foods, held at the Marina Restaurant, off Putney Road at the West River.
• The Tour de Heifer — all day, Sunday, June 4. Vermont’s most challenging dirt road cycling tours, with 15, 30, and 60-mile options, plus a 3-mile hiking option.
• Farm Tour — Sunday, June 4. The Stroll has partnered with five farms in the Brattleboro area, each with something unique to offer, that will offer guided tours.
For further information on all events and programs during Stroll Weekend, visit www.strollingoftheheifers.com.