Strolling of the Heifers more than just a parade

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(Host) This coming Saturday is the day 100 heifers will parade down Brattleboro’s Main Street.

The Strolling of the Heifers brought out fifty thousand people last year. But there’s more to this annual event than just attracting tourists, as VPR’s Susan Keese reports.

(Keese) Outside his grandpa Charlie Robb’s barn in West Brattleboro, 9-year-old Peter Clark hoses down his black and white calf.

He’s been getting her used to being led. Now he’s sprucing her up for Saturday’s parade. It’ll be the fifth annual heifer stroll, and the fifth time he’s led a calf, garlanded with flowers, in this celebration of all things earthy and bovine.

(Keese) “Any special tricks to it?”
(Clark) “Not really,. Just scrub em.”

(Keese) Clark’s grandma, Helen Robb watches as he works.

The Robb farm will have five or six calves in the parade this year. Family members are also involved in other events: the food sampling and dairy fest after the parade, and the farm visits all day Sunday.

The Strolling of the Heifers actually reimburses farmers for bringing the cows to town.

(Robb) “And it doesn’t necessarily pay our time but still it’s something tangible that we get back. And with the dairy industry being what it is right now, we’re very happy to have that little bit of a contribution.”

(Keese) Robb is also a year-round member of the heifer stroll committee. The group gives out $20,000 annually to help area schools teach about the importance of local agriculture.

The money, which comes from festival sponsors, goes to both the schools and the farmers.

(Robb) “And they do farming projects. There’ll be a class coming out here next week as a matter of fact.”

(Keese) Orly Munzing of Dummerston started the festival. She’d been talking with her farmer-neighbor about the number of farms going under.

She thought about the open land she loved, and the community spirit she sees as a by-product of family agriculture and its values.

(Munzing) “And I said, lets just march 100 heifers down main street’… not only will it put Brattleboro on the map but we’ll also capture people’s imagination. And that’s how we can implement the seed of buying locally, nutrition, saving our open land etc. etc… And it just took of a life of its own and it grew, and all these ideas are just growing.”

(Keese) The group has started giving out scholarships for farmers to attend workshops, and to pay for someone to do the milking while they’re gone. They’re working on a program to pair aspiring young farmers together with seasoned farmers.

But Munzing says this weekend is about fun. It’s about tasting and socializing and celebrating the people and the animals.

(Heifers moo)

(Keese) For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Susan Keese.

Related Link Strolling of the Heifers Website

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