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Bringing farmers to Main Street

Strolling of the Heifers eyes the River Garden, pledges to keep building public

BRATTLEBORO—The Strolling of the Heifers, the organization behind the beloved annual parade, is eyeing the Robert H. Gibson River Garden for its headquarters.

Orly Munzing, founder and executive director, confirmed in an interview that the organization is preparing to develop a request for proposal (RFP) to acquire the River Garden from its current owner Building a Better Brattleboro (BaBB).

Strolling of the Heifers sprouted under the shade of BaBB’s nonprofit tree when Strolling held its first parade in 2002.

“Strolling of the Heifers spawned from BaBB,” said Munzing, adding that once her organization could stand on its own, BaBB let go of the reins.

“We’re strong enough now to come back and shepherd the River Garden,” Munzing said.

Strolling of the Heifers has nearly 13 years of event planning under its belt, said Munzing, noting that the one thing lacking is a home base on Main Street.

BaBB announced, late last year, plans to divest itself of the downtown River Garden. According to Donna Simon, board president, and outgoing Executive Director Andrea Livermore, the building has operated at a deficit for the previous five years. Livermore said maintaining the River Garden has depleted BaBB’s own funds.

Munzing said she felt that moving to Main Street, and the River Garden specifically, matched her organization’s mission “to help support, sustain and celebrate family farmers by connecting people with healthy local food.”

By bringing farmers to Main Street, Strolling can support intergenerational dialogue, create more farm and food events, and provide more educational opportunities for the community, said Munzing.

Strolling of the Heifers hosts multiple events on “Stroll Weekend” in June, including a Tour de Heifer bike ride, the Slow Living Expo, and the Slow Living Summit conference focused on sustainable living.

The organization partners with the Vermont Technical College to present a statewide competition. The Vermont Farm/Food Business Plan Competition encourages “innovation and entrepreneurship” offering $60,000 in prizes.

The Stroll has used the River Garden in presenting many of these events and programs, said Munzing in a press release on April 4. Managing the building would present the opportunity to develop and host additional events furthering its mission, including local food tastings and dinners, lectures, concerts, classes, and exhibits.

Marketing Director Martin Langeveld said Strolling of the Heifers’ proposal remains in the bud stage and the organization has yet to submit a formal proposal.

“The Stroll’s priority for the River Garden will be to maintain the building as a community resource,” stated Munzing in a press release. “The River Garden is a jewel in the crown of downtown Brattleboro. It’s a great location and a great space. If we are successful in becoming the designated steward of the building, it will continue to be available for all kinds of public events, while allowing Strolling of the Heifers to expand our own roster of events and programs.”

According to Munzing, the Strolling of the Heifers hopes to improve and expand the River Garden with the installation of a small commercial kitchen, air conditioning, and office space for the organization.

Many amenities the community expects will remain including the Waypoint information center for visitors and the public restrooms. Munzing said she also hopes BaBB will maintain its current office space.

The building would continue to be open for events of other organizations, including the Winter Farmers’ Market operated by Post Oil Solutions, if the organization wanted to work with Strolling of the Heifers.

Langeveld added that Strolling would like to expand its relationship with the Vermont Technical College and Community College of Vermont in the future.

Munzing said Strolling of the Heifers invites people with ideas for the River Garden to join the organization and “work together” to ensure the River Garden’s success.

Strolling of the Heifers belongs to the community, said Munzing. For the organization “to hide this [its plans], it’s not in the vein of Strolling of the Heifers.”

Simon serves as secretary on the Strolling board of directors. Langeveld and Munzing stressed that she has recused herself from the process related to the River Garden and has not attended meetings about the building.

Livermore said that Strolling of the Heifers has made an exciting suggestion. But she also hoped the announcement would “not preclude others from submitting” their own proposals, which are due to BaBB by April 30.

Langeveld said anyone with questions or suggestions should contact the organization through its website: www.strollingoftheheifers.com.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #198 (Wednesday, April 10, 2013).

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