Over 50 heifers adorned in garlands were led in the 12th annual Strolling of the Heifers that occurred on Saturday, June 8 in Brattleboro, VT. Mules, Morgans, tractors, clowns, alpacas and marching bands dressed in cow costumes took part, cheered by viewers approximately 50,000 strong who lined the streets of Brattleboro from Flat Street to the town common, almost a mile away. Festivities started on Friday with a Mardi Gras Street Festival and Gallery Walk.
The fun event geared to preserve and protect the tradition of farming is the brainchild of Dummerston resident Orly Munzing, created in response to her neighbor Dwight Miller’s plea in 2001 to do something about the plight of farmers going out of business and to raise public awareness of how intricately vital they are to the community, and how hard they work. Based on the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, Spain, she created the Strolling of the Heifers, with people getting a chance to talk to participating farmers and learn about farming, local foods and agriculture at its conclusion. The first stroll occurred in 2012.
“I think that we are getting word out, that it’s really important to help farmers, connecting people with food that they eat in a fun way. I’m not a farmer but I support all farmers. I see it as a privilege, a duty to do this. Farmers help me to anchor myself in good health. Living in such an amazing culture helps us. It’s our duty to support our farmers. I’m passionate about that,” she said.
One farm in the parade’s procession, Mapledge from Shelburne, MA, began in 1871. “My great-great-great grandmother bought it for her grandsons, who lost their father in the Civil War,” said current owner, descendant Peter Williams, referring to Lucy Bishop, his ancestor. It was Lucy’s son-in-law, Eros Williams, who died of injuries sustained in the Civil War. One of her grandsons, Ned Williams, operated the farm on what is now Williams Road and was joined by Peter’s father James in 1940. Peter grew up working with his father and took charge in 1981. Peter, his wife Faith, and daughters Margaret and Eleanor are involved. Currently the farm milks 40 cows, with a herd of 80, and has participated in the parade for the last ten years. Margaret, along with friends from college, led Nika, one of their five Jerseys. Margaret just graduated from University of Massachusetts, wearing her black graduation cap with the tassel pulled forward to prove it.
Shelley Martell of Winchester, NH representing Highland Valley 4-H Club, led her four month old Guernsey heifer Waffle, so named, “Because her mom’s name is Maple, like maple syrup,” she said, leading Waffle in the town common where 50 vending booths were set up. Her brother Riley also led a heifer in the parade.
Shelley’s sister Hayley Martell, age 16, was one of four chosen to represent New Hampshire at the 2014 World Dairy Exposition that will be held in Madison, WI in October. With her were Tyler Woodman of Claremont NH, age 16, and Joe Davis, 16, of Richmond NH, the other two representatives. The fourth, Lottie Paige, was not present. Hayley has attended the parade she was her sister’s age. The best part is, “Probably letting everybody see the cows,” she said.
No matter how much lead training has taken place at home, being led amidst a cheering crowd of approximately 50,000 is daunting for the heifers. Several had to be nudged along. One six month old Milking Shorthorn made it to the middle but had to be picked up and trucked to the town common. Nonetheless, her owner, 12 year Grace Marsh from Winchester NH, was calmly leading her heifer, named Pride, around the common, showing her off for people to pet and meet at the end of the parade.
Further down the street at the Slow Living Expo, were students performing from New England Center for Circus Arts, Woodland Forest exhibits, cooking demonstrations, and Cheese Village and others displaying their talents and wares.
This year, Strolling of the Heifers organizers teamed up with Vermont Technical College for a statewide Vermont Farm/Food Business Plan Competition that awards $60,000 in multiple prizes to farms, food producers, and forestry businesses in Vermont to assist businesses and prospective entrepreneurs develop viable business plans.
Is Orly surprised at the parades’ continued success? “Of course. It’s taken such an evolution, three hundred volunteers to put this together. We work on this all year round, morning to night. It brings us all great joy.”