Last weekend Brattleboro, Vermont, celebrated its tenth annual “Strolling of the Heifers” Parade Weekend.
The weekend’s theme and mission were “to connect people with healthy local food and the farmers and producers who bring it to them.” In addition to the over-an-hour-long Saturday morning signature parade through the center of Brattleboro (including dozens of heifers, goats, sheep, donkeys, horses, and at least one pig), the weekend also featured a “Tour de Heifer” bicycle race, a “Farm & Food Short Film Festival,” and a “Farm Food and Fiber Tour” that included twenty-three farms.
Some of these farms were within the Brattleboro town limits; others were as far away as Grafton and Rockingham (a forty minute drive). For several of the farms, Heifer weekend marks the beginning of their summer season — others are open to the public on this day only. The event’s website includes a helpful map and summary of the sites, complete with contact info and websites.
Brattleboro is a town on the Connecticut River in south-eastern Vermont. Established in 1724 as Fort Dummer, the town claims to be the oldest in Vermont. It is home to about 12,000 people, in a county of about 45,000. A mill town through most of its history, Brattleboro is now home to eclectic shops and small galleries, as well as a food coop that draws customers from the local area and southern New Hampshire.
This year’s Stroll seemed significantly bigger and more energetic than the event I visited with my family only a couple of years ago. It was a beautiful morning for a parade, sunny but not too hot.
There were the expected school bands, plenty of livestock, and a decent assortment of antique tractors. But there was a stronger political sense to this year’s event.
Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders walked by at the beginning of the parade, receiving cheers and waves from the surprised crowd. Several of the groups marched by with signs promoting organic foods and denouncing GMOs. There was even a local school advertising its “Buy Local School Lunch” program.
Earlier in the week, Brattleboro had hosted its first “Slow Living Summit,” with speakers like environmentalist Bill McKibben. The energy carried over to parade day and complemented the festival’s offering of short films with titles like “Buzzkill,” “Seeds in the Wind,” and “America’s Dairyland.”
After the parade, the crowd followed the final marchers along Main Street, to the park adjoining the Brattleboro Retreat, a psychiatric hospital established in 1834. There was a “Green Expo,” featuring environmental and local products.
In addition to sponsoring a sandwich contest whose winner got a trip to Australia, this year’s festival claims to have broken the record for the World’s Largest Smoothie with a maple-yogurt drink measuring 327.58 gallons.
The goal of sponsors like the Vermont Cheese Council (which also publishes a map designed to help Vermonters “Know your cheesemaker!”) seems to have been met, as thousands of attendees had fun celebrating and learning about local food and the people who make it.
Dan Allosso, who sometimes comments at DY as “ruralhistorian,” is a grad student at UMass, writing about rural America in the nineteenth century.