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Strolling of the Heifers to present ‘slow living’ summit

June event to focus on sustainable agriculture, building local economies

BRATTLEBORO—Over the past decade, Strolling of the Heifers has grown from a once-every-June goofy curiosity to a year-round organization supporting local agriculture around southern Vermont.

To mark its 10th Stroll this year, the organization is taking on its most ambitious project yet — a regional conference exploring the concept of “slow living.”

The first Strolling of the Heifers Slow Living Summit is scheduled to take place on June 1-3 in Brattleboro. It will focus on topics of social and economic sustainability. The summit’s theme is “Common Interests, Common Solutions, Common Good.”

It is being organized with the help of the Marlboro College Graduate School and World Learning/SIT, and will take place in various locations in downtown Brattleboro, including the Latchis Theatre, the River Garden, and the Marlboro College Graduate Center. Organizers hope to attract as many as 200 attendees from throughout the Northeast.

Scheduled speakers include author and environmental activist Bill McKibben, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., entrepreneurship guru Gary Hirshberg of Stonyfield Farm, Slow Food USA president Josh Viertel, Sustainable South Bronx founder Majora Carter, Vermont Secretary of Agriculture Chuck Ross, and Gardener’s Supply CEO Will Raap.

“This is like our capstone project, our Ph.D. for the Stroll,” said founder and executive director Orly Munzing at a news conference on Monday. “Brattleboro is going to be a national example.”

The Slow Living conference grew out of the Slow Money conference that the Stroll put on last year. Founded by Woody Tasch, a pioneer in merging investing with philanthropy, the slow money movement seeks to invest in local agricultural economies in a way that puts the cultural, ecological, and economic health of a community ahead of profit and private gain.

The slow money movement was itself inspired by the “slow food” movement, which has promoted local small businesses and traditional cuisines since it was founded in Europe in the late 1980s.

“Slow has become a metaphor for sustainability, for building local economies, for something that is the opposite of an economy built on speed, growth, and extraction,” said Martin Langeveld, marketing director for Strolling of the Heifers. “We found there are various organizations dealing with various aspects of slow living, and this is a chance to bring them all together to find their commonalities.”

Ralph Meima, head of the Marlboro College Graduate School’s Masters in Business Adminstration program, believes the time is right for a conference like this one. “There is a huge wave in local economies based on the ‘Four F’s’ — food, fuel, fiber, and feed. Land-based entrepreneurship is growing around the country, and this summit is an opportunity for people to meet with each other.”

The breakout sessions at the summit are organized into five areas: food and agriculture; energy and resources; economic issues (business, finance, and entrepreneurship); education for sustainability; and quality of life. Planned topics for discussion include using technology for sustainability, reinventing agriculture, developing community-scaled renewable energy systems, and tapping sources of funding for sustainable enterprises.

“We’re trying to push [slow living] into a mainstream movement,” said Langeveld. “That this area is doing so much on issues of sustainability makes Brattleboro very attractive to people and businesses that share these values. It is a good way to build on the strengths we already have.”

Langeveld said that while the summit marks a big transition for the Stroll, the recent history of the organization has been “to get something started and see if someone else can take it over.”

One example of this aim is the Stroll’s “microloan” program, which provides small, short-term loans of up to $10,000 to New England farmers. The Carrot Project, a Somerville, Mass. nonprofit that was originally a partner in the loan program, now runs it independently. Another example is the Stroll’s summer apprenticeship program placing youths in farm internships, which has recently been adopted by the Windham Regional Career Center in Brattleboro as part of its new agricultural curriculum.

“Considering how many people in Vermont are involved in one way or another with agriculture and food production, this summit is important,” said Langeveld. “With the Stroll’s reputation to attract people, we think it will be a success.”

Registration information for the Summit, and a schedule of events (with new events and speakers still being added), can be found at the Strolling of the Heifers website, www.strollingoftheheifers.com. Organizations interested in attending or sponsoring the event may also call Munzing at 802-258-9177 or e-mail her at orlymunzing@gmail.com.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #91 (Wednesday, March 9, 2011).

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