• Set the Table with Switchel

    Set the Table with Switchel

    Long a staple in Northeast hayfields as a thirst quencher and restorative, switchel—alternatively called “haymaker’s punch” —was a colonial era proto-Gatorade, a source of both hydration and electrolyte replenishment. Recipes vary, but the most common ingredients were molasses, cider vinegar, and ginger, mixed to taste in a jug of very cold well water. While the concoction could have provided benefit to all manner of laborers and sporting folks, its use was particularly common among the workers of the hayfield and the children who carried the switchel jug to them.

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  • Bartered, Smuggled, and Bought

    Bartered, Smuggled, and Bought

    When the Upper Valley Localvores took their first 100–mile diet challenge in August 2005, we came upon a serious stumbling block. No local salt! Tomatoes and corn–on–the–cob were abundant, but oh, we needed salt. Fortunately, one of our members had vacationed in Maine and brought back a precious supply of sea salt. It made us wonder what our Upper Valley ancestors had done for salt.

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  • Eat it on the Radio

    Eat it on the Radio

    In his book Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future, Vermont author and environmentalist Bill McKibben focuses on the importance of strong communities for the health and well-being of the planet and its people. He suggests that we can strengthen our home regions by producing more of our own food, generating more of our own energy, and even creating more of our own culture and entertainment. To achieve these goals, McKibben advises, we need to build or rebuild local institutions that draw people together, and one such institution that he cites in his book is a low-power radio station in the Mad River Valley: WMRW-LP Warren, 95.1 FM.

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  • A Passion for Artisan Soap

    A Passion for Artisan Soap

    My soap-making journey started a decade or so ago, when I was becoming more and more sensitized (allergic) to mainstream, detergent-type soaps. Eventually I just couldn’t use them anymore. As I researched the subject, I became alarmed at what was being used in cosmetic products on the market, not to mention all the harmful chemicals leaching into our waterways as a result of those products. I decided to start making my own soap, and the enthusiasm I had back then for soap making has now turned into a passion and a business for me. My only regret is that I didn’t start making them sooner!

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  • Halal in the Hills

    Halal in the Hills

    Art Meade is a 59-year-old livestock and poultry farmer with a thick Maine accent and a farm on Route 100 in Morrisville. He also happens to run the only state-licensed slaughter facility in Vermont that caters to Muslims who practice halal slaughter. This is the Muslim tradition of swiftly slitting the throat of a domesticated meat animal with a sharp knife; the animal is believed to be killed instantly and painlessly (though there is some debate about that). Muslims, who are directed by their religion to eat halal meat, can purchase such meat in Vermont stores, but some prefer to do the slaughter themselves.

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  • How to Start a Community Garden

    How to Start a Community Garden

    Back in January, as my husband and I searched for a place to live in Middlebury, we had big plans to create a summer vegetable garden. But it quickly became clear that housing in town with gardening space wouldn’t be easy to find. Apartments that advertised a “big yard” always seemed to have a “scruffy lawn,” and few landlords reacted well to my desire to dig out a portion of that lawn to plant vegetables.

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  • The Story of Bread

    The Story of Bread

    Green Mountain Flour, a new artisan bakery in Windsor owned and operated by Zachary Stremlau and Daniella Malin, takes a unique approach to its craft: it uses local wheat, local milling, and local fuel to create its flours, breads, and pizzas. Here, woodcuts that comprise the bakery’s logo tell “the story of bread,” echoing a time in early New England when, according to Zachary and Daniella, “the farmers knew the miller, the miller milled with stone, and the baker baked with fire.”

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  • How to Get Grounded

    How to Get Grounded

    On a road in Cabot, not far from the land that Laura Dale and Cyrus Pond bought this past March, you can look out to the west at a horizon dominated by the undulating spine of the Green Mountains. For many young farmers in Vermont, the cost of land can seem as daunting and insurmountable as the largest of those mountains in the dead of winter.

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  • Tapping for Taste

    Tapping for Taste

    There are people in Vermont who prefer fake maple syrup—not just people who are looking for something cheaper but who actually prefer the stuff made of corn syrup. There are other people in Vermont who don’t talk to those fake syrup types. And there are Vermonters who stand by Grade B for all occasions and others who keep a little Fancy on hand.

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  • Farming & Feasting with the Robinsons: Winter

    Farming & Feasting with the Robinsons: Winter

    In the not-so-distant past, eating locally was a way of life and a matter of necessity. For four generations, the Robinson family farmed in Ferrisburgh, at the place known today as the Rokeby Museum. The museum’s collection includes correspondence and household records detailing the family’s ways of farming, preserving, and eating. In the last of this four-part series, we take a look at how the Robinsons cooked, ate, and farmed in the late 1800s.

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  • Classy Wheat

    Classy Wheat

    Last year, I arrived at The Putney School as their new gardener and was tasked with getting the high school students at this Putney boarding and day school excited about gardening. Early on, the farm manager told me he had planted some wheat on the edge of one of the farm’s hayfields. I was intrigued.

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  • Farm Camp—Planting Confidence, Harvesting Strength

    Farm Camp—Planting Confidence, Harvesting Strength

    As I downshift off the Putney exit of I-91, my husband, Jerry, is roused from his dozing by the hollow sound of several hundred jostling maple syrup jugs. It’s April, time to buy containers for our maple syrup at Bascom’s 10% container sale, and time to post Farm Camp flyers.

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  • The First Localvores

    The First Localvores

    I have always been fascinated by wild foods. When I was a kid growing up in Indiana we had a copy of Euell Gibbons’ book Stalking the Wild Asparagus, and I remember how exciting it was to read about eating cattails, making acorn flour, and brewing sassafras tea. As I recall, the cattail stalks tasted a bit like mild turnips, the acorn flour was tannic and needed a lot of processing before being edible, and the tea tasted like something just this side of root beer. Little did I know as a kid that wild edibles such as cattails and acorns were just a couple of the foods historically gathered and consumed by the first people to inhabit the state I would one day call home.

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  • Restoring Vermont’s Heritage

    Restoring Vermont’s Heritage

    “The farming of our fathers was exceedingly simple, content to draw from a virgin soil the supplies of simple wants, instead of aiming itself for their increase. With the impoverishment of the soil, with the forests almost swept off the face of the country and the consequent climate change, with the multiplied wants of society and development of so many new industries, the highest intelligence and energies are required to remodel our system of agriculture so that it may fully meet the demands made upon it.

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A 10-Year Stroll

Strolling of the Heifers Parade
Strolling of the Heifers Parade

Written By

Katherine P. Cox

Written on

June 01 , 2011

With hundreds of spectators lining Main Street in Brattleboro, the groomed and bedazzled heifers are led down the center of the street to the cheers of onlookers. Hundreds of cows preen for the delighted crowd, followed by more farm animals (bulls, goats, and horses), tractors (also decorated for the parade) floats, clowns, marching bands, street performers, and all manner of groups touting their various farm affiliations.

It has happened every June since 2001. But today Strolling of the Heifers has catapulted beyond being just a parade to offering a weekend-long celebration at the beginning of each June that includes both the serious (summits and film festivals) and the fun (attempts to break the Guinness Book of World Records for the world’s largest smoothie, made from local yogurt, maple syrup, apples, and apple cider to promote Vermont’s dairy, maple syrup, and apple industries).

Underlying the frivolity, however, is the earnest mission of the Strolling of the Heifers organization: to support local farmers by connecting people with local foods and with the farmers who produce that food; to save local farms; to take sustainability mainstream; and to build strong, local communities. The organization communicates that mission through a handful of innovative endeavors such as the young farmers’ apprenticeship program, a microloan program for farmers, and a loan program for new and small businesses in the food and farm industries.

Orly Munzing, executive director of Strolling of the Heifers, conceived the idea of the Brattleboro organization 10 years ago to bring attention to dairy farmers and “put Brattleboro on the map and capture people’s imagination,” she says. “I had no idea it was going to be where it is today.” For Munzing, saving farms has meant reaching beyond “the choir” and educating everyone about what’s at stake. Her goal is to get people involved in a way that’s enjoyable, not political—a “kinesthetic way,” she says. “Make it fun and sexy.”

The original mission, says Martin Langeveld, marketing director, was to save and sustain family farms by raising people’s awareness through the parade and through exposure to educational programs. “This was at a time when the term ‘localvore’ didn’t exist. The whole idea of connecting with where your food comes from has taken off these last 10 years. Now the mission is connecting people with healthy local foods and farmers and producers and what they do.”

A way to foster that connection is to encourage young people to consider farming as a viable career. In 2009, Strolling of the Heifers developed the Beginning Farmer Apprenticeship program, which placed at-risk youths on farms in Windham County for six weeks during the summer; they continued it the following summer. The success of that pilot program, funded through a grant, led the Windham Regional Career Center to adopt it this year and to offer it as part of its agricultural curriculum.

“It’s sustainable,” Munzing says of the program, which is her goal for all projects the organization runs. “We take on a program, do the PR, invite people in and get them involved, create partnerships, and move on.”

Focusing on issues facing today’s farmers, the organization also established several projects that have an important financial impact. Obtaining credit can be a hurdle for small farmers; traditional bank loans are not always available to them. So the folks at Strolling of the Heifers explored options and established a microloan program.

“It started with Orly asking farmers, ‘what can we do now?’ ” Langeveld says. Their answer was “we need money.” Money to fix a broken tractor, put a new roof on the barn, and to buy equipment. So the organization gathered bankers, investment brokers, and others “to talk about this need, and we came up with the microloan program,” he continues.

“I’m not a banker. I’m not an investor,” Munzing explains. “We’re a small organization.” But an organization that knows how to partner with the right people to make things happen. It turned to Dorothy Suput, founder of the Boston-based Carrot Project, which helps farmers find financing through alternative resources and provides business and management advice. The Strolling of the Heifers Microloan Fund for New England Farmers raised funds through grants and concerts—Pete Seeger, Guy Davis, John Sebastian, and the Paul Winter Consort have been headliners over the years—and in 2009 awarded its first loans to qualifying farmers. The Carrot Project now administers the fund program for Strolling of the Heifers.

More recently, Strolling of the Heifers developed the Farm Food Business Plan Competition for new and small businesses that are in the farm or food sectors. A collaboration with the Brattleboro Development Credit Corp., a nonprofit economic development organization, it was launched this year to provide support to farms that can’t compete for loans against big businesses. Farms, existing small businesses, and new businesses in the food industry provide executive summaries and business plans, and judges select the finalists for prizes that run from $1,000 to $10,000. Winners were scheduled to be announced during this year’s Strolling of the Heifers annual weekend celebration June 3–5.

This year’s 10th anniversary festival, while ensuring family fun with the parade, the Ultimate New England Sandwich Competition, and the Tour de Heifer bike race, will add a film festival to its events—films showcasing the importance of local farms, foods and producers—and plans to tackle critical issues with its Slow Living Summit. The summit will feature speakers such as environmental activist Bill McKibben; Gary Hirshberg, president of Stonyfield Farms; Josh Viertal, president of Slow Food USA; and Chuck Ross, Vermont secretary of agriculture, among others. They plan to discuss and exchanged ideas about building healthy local economies, supporting new businesses, and engaging the public in advancing the “slow living” movement.

“People will walk away with ideas and projects and partner with other people,” Munzing said before the event. They’ll be able to discuss projects through the website developed for this conference and take action in their communities.” She continued, “We try to bring energy, education, nutrition, health, investing—the whole picture—into what a community should be. We invited people to come together to define what this new economy should look like—all under one barn.” In bringing various groups together, it gives them a bigger voice, she added.

Strolling of the Heifers hopes the conference will generate a change in how people think of their communities and promote further investment in their economies. “It’s all about sustainability and social entrepreneurship,” Langeveld says. “Eating local, buying local has become mainstream; a sustainable economy also has to come into the mainstream. The slow metaphor can be applied to all aspects.”

About the Author

Katherine Cox

Katherine P. Cox

Katherine P. Cox is a freelance writer who lives in the Connecticut River Valley town of Westmoreland, N.H. A former writer and editor at The NH Keene Sentinel in Keene, N.H., her work has appeared in Monadnock Table, Here in Hanover, and Southern Vermont Arts & Living.

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A quarterly magazine devoted to covering local food, sustainable farming, and the many people building the Vermont food system.

Vermont's Local Banquet Magazine illuminates the connections between local food and Vermont communities. Our stories, interviews, and essays reveal how Vermont residents are building their local food systems, how farmers are faring in a time of great opportunity and challenge, and how Vermont’s agricultural landscape is changing as the localvore movement shapes what is grown and raised here.


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