Orly Munzing fundraises year-round for Brattleboro, VT based Strolling of the Heifers (the Stroll), an event she founded 17 years ago to assist farmers. She lives next door to a farm but is not a farmer. Bearing witness to her neighbor’s hard work was the genesis for the Stroll. This year’s Stroll occurred June 3, complete with cows dressed up with garlands of flowers, their owners dressed in colors representing 4-H Clubs, and representatives from local schools, businesses and many marching bands.
What Munzing, the Stroll’s executive director, loves best about the parade is “seeing all the smiles when all the farmers come out on Main Street and the people give them their warm love from the community; it’s just rolling off them. The farmers can’t believe it.” Beginning two days before the parade was the Slow Living Summit, devoted to farming and sustainable living, and the night before Main Street was blocked off to allow dancing and music.
Fundraising efforts of the Stroll organizers resulted in their latest program, Windham Grows, which scales up small businesses that support farms. This program kicked off officially on October 17, 2016. Part of getting ready was buying the Robert H. Gibson building on Main Street in Brattleboro, VT, known as the River Garden.
The program is just finishing their pilot cohort of seven small business owners, including a granola company, a Greek natural food producer, a maker of body lotions from local farm products, a microbrewery upstart, a chocolate maker, and a cheesecake maker using local eggs and milk. “Out of the seven, four of the businesses are employed in the Farm to Table Program,” said Munzing.
“It’s all value-added agricultural products. Most of them take products from local farms…and add value to them by some sort of manufacturing process to sell them,” said Jim Verzino, involved first as a volunteer in the Windham Grows fundraising and then hired full-time as Director and Entrepreneur in Residence in October 2016. Previously he owned an environmental consulting firm.
To set up in the River Garden, the cohort went through a nine-month training program as a group. Each cohort member can also come in for additional support. Sometimes the organizers will go on site to look at a business’ manufacturing facility. Windham Grows provides wrap around services like lawyers and accountants. In this first round, all the business were centered in Windham County. Future plans aspire to cast the supportive net wider.
The Stroll’s fundraising efforts for Windham Grows resulted in $90,000 from Vermont Yankee Settlement Fund, $40,000 from Vermont Working Lands Enterprise Fund, $160,00 from the Economic Development Authority and $30,000 from USDA.
“We are the only such accelerator in the state of Vermont, to my knowledge,” said Munzing. Plus, something occurs each weekday at the River Garden, either lectures or entertainment. “The River Garden is run by people trying to get back to the work force; it’s run as a job training site,” she added.
Meanwhile, at the end of the parade, people got a chance to visit with the cows, listen to music or catch their breath. “It was wonderful…Our cows were lovely. Our kids were even better. There’s so much cow love out there it isn’t even funny,” said Lisa Moore, leader of Franklin County 4-H Dairy Club. The club meets at each other’s farms in Franklin County, MA, including Breezy Knoll Farm, Peila Farm, Zilensky Farm, and at the Greenfield Farmer’s Cooperative.
Some people have the magical cow touch. Ryan Merrill was showing his toddler Kennedy a cow while the cow nuzzled his ear. Is it the first time he had been kissed by a cow? “Oh no, I’ve been around them all my life,” Merrill answered, having worked at different farms.
People enjoyed the tractors, too. Carlson Barrett of Westmoreland, NH is a retired music teacher and the president of the 35-member Cast and Brass Club in Keene, NH. He stood by as children climbed on his gleaming green tractor and had their pictures taken. “It’s off my neighbor’s farm where I lived as I kid. It’s a John Deere — a 49-er; I was born in 1948,” so the attachment is longstanding. He takes the tractor out for parades, displays and demonstrations.
Nicole Glabach of Leyden, MA praised her Holstein, Fluff, for her great job walking in the parade. Fluff was born on Dec. 26, 2016 and lives at the 150-cow Breezy Knoll Farm in Leyden, owned by Warren Facey and his family. Her husband, Thomas Glabach, has been a herdsman there for three years. Both Glabach and Fluff were newcomers to the Stroll. “I loved it. It was a lot of fun. It’s a good way to [get] the cows used to people. Fluff’s going to be a show cow — go the Heath Fair and the Tri-County Fair,” and other fairs on the county fair circuit.