• Editor's Note Summer 2011

    Editor's Note Summer 2011

    It’s practically a requirement for any journalistic publication (such as this one) to keep tabs on what’s new and exciting in the field it covers. Not only is it the publication’s responsibility to keep readers up to date, it also makes for good copy. Journalists find it hard to write about “what hasn’t changed since yesterday,” even though the fact that something hasn’t changed is often, in its own quiet way, newsworthy. Journalists and editors get a frisson of excitement when something new(s) crosses their path.

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  • Set the Table with Hot Sauce

    Set the Table with Hot Sauce

    Vermont is known for many things, but spicy food is not one of them. Fortunately for the spice lovers among us, many local farmers have bucked the trend and have been cultivating delicious, spicy chilis for us to enjoy. Hot peppers need heat to grow, but with a good dose of sunlight and perhaps some black plastic over the soil, peppers can thrive in Vermont’s warm summers.

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  • Growing Backyard Mushrooms

    Growing Backyard Mushrooms

    Even for the most adventurous gardeners and avid wild mushroom foragers, the idea of growing one’s own gourmet mushrooms may seem mysterious. But there are a number of methods that gardeners and farmers use to incorporate gourmet mushrooms into their landscapes, and these methods are fairly easy for anyone to try at home.

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  • A 10-Year Stroll

    A 10-Year Stroll

    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.

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  • After the Fire

    After the Fire

    Barn’s burnt down…now I can see the moon. –Chinese proverb

    Yet the converse is also true: Yes, we can see the moon, but it won’t shelter tractors, nor can vegetables be washed, packed, and stored inside its lovely glow. Oh, the moon is beautiful, but what can it do for food and a business after the fire is put out?

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  • Micro Milk

    Micro Milk

    Local food and slow food frequently mean small food: small farms, small producers, small quantities. The English language happens to provide a nice term for very small: micro. So it follows that the antidote to a huge, consolidated milk production system might be a micro dairy.

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  • Farm Stays

    Farm Stays

    A number of farms in Vermont double as B&B’s. The next time your relatives come to town, they can have a bucolic, back-to-the-land experience—or you can take a weekend and have one yourself! 

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  • A Charcuterie Cure

    A Charcuterie Cure

    Here in the kitchen of Pete Colman’s barn-apartment in Plainfield, a small banner on the wall bears the magnanimous face of the Italian priest and saint Padre Pio, with the words “Don’t worry, soon you will be cured.” In the context of this home—just steps away from a sparkling new meat-curing shop that shares the same barn—it’s hard to know just who the saint is addressing: the cook who lives there or…the pig.

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  • Farming in a Changing Climate

    Farming in a Changing Climate

    Seems like the weather’s been extreme in recent years: heat waves, ice storms, and floods. How is this related to climate change? The answer is, indirectly. Weather events are not a good tool for assessing the climate, since climate is made up of weather patterns over many decades. There are ups and downs within seasons, but the trends over time are what counts. They include both temperature and precipitation patterns, and these affect environmental conditions, which in turn affect plants, animals, and ecosystems.

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  • Farmers' Kitchen—Bella Basil

    Farmers' Kitchen—Bella Basil

    Pesto is summer. It is the bright flavor of fresh basil, the bite of raw garlic, and the smoothness of olive oil. Tasting pesto can bring the visceral sensations of warmth and sunlight to us, even in the darkest days of winter. At Bella Farm, my small crew and I grow eight varieties of basil, as well as seven varieties of garlic and many culinary herbs. We process the basil and garlic into our signature dairy-and nut-free pesto, called Bella Farm Organic Pesto.

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  • Summer Cartoon—Post Peak Oil

    Summer Cartoon—Post Peak Oil

    Scenes we'd like to see: Post Peak Oil

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  • One Wild Potluck

    One Wild Potluck

    The Peterson Field Guide Edible Wild Plants has a recipe for clovers that says clovers are not very digestible but can be soaked for hours in salty water to make them so. Christopher Nyerges book Guide to Wild Foods and Useful Plants tells you that the seeds of the plantain, a common weed around these parts, can be soaked in water until soft and then cooked up like rice. It goes on to say that the result is slightly “mucilaginous and bland.”

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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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