BRATTLEBORO—After a decade of debate over what the Robert H. Gibson River Garden should be used for, Strolling of the Heifers founder and executive director Orly Munzing outlined her organization’s vision for the downtown landmark now that it is the owner.
Munzing announced on Nov. 15 that Building a Better Brattleboro (BaBB), the downtown organization that built the River Garden in 2001, had completed the deal to sell the property to Strolling of the Heifers.
Strolling plans to launch a farm/food education center — with year-round programming, exhibits, and events related to farming, local food and food systems — at the River Garden.
“We’re trying to make this a real destination for the community,” Munzing said.
While being a focal point for the local food economy will be the River Garden’s main role, Munzing said that the many roles the building has filled over the years will also remain.
She said the space will remain open on a daily basis as a Waypoint Center, with public bathrooms and a place for visitors to rest and relax. It will also continue to be available on a rental basis for community events and private functions.
The River Garden had been a financial burden for BaBB, which operated it for many years at a deficit.
BaBB board president Donna Simons said at the organization’s annual meeting on Nov. 6 that Strolling of the Heifers has agreed to pay the building’s mortgage and provide BaBB with $20,000, equal to the credit line BaBB used to make up financial shortfalls attached to the building.
Should Strolling of the Heifers sell the building within 10 years, it has also agreed to split any profits with BaBB, said Simons. Strolling will also keep the building’s name and keep the building as part of the area’s scenic byway, and also agreed to split fundraising money with BaBB from events at the River Garden if BaBB helps with the event.
BaBB will move its offices out of the River Garden in the coming weeks. Strolling will set up its offices in the space, and is considering adding a “Stroll Store,” selling Stroll merchandise and local farm products.
Munzing said Strolling was able to secure a low-interest loan through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development program, and is pursuing grants and donations from private donors to help pay for planned upgrades to the River Garden.
Topping the list: a commercial kitchen for food preparation, catering for events at the River Garden, and cooking classes and demonstrations.
Not far behind are energy efficiency improvements, including an air conditioning system, and improving the building’s acoustics.
Work is expected to begin January 2014, with a goal of having a grand opening celebration during the annual Strolling of the Heifers parade on the first weekend of June.
Munzing said she is confident that Strolling will be able to succeed in making a financial go of it in the River Garden.