By Bob Audette, Brattleboro Reformer, published December 30, 2022
BRATTLEBORO — There will be no more heifers strolling down Main Street, at least not as part of the annual Strolling of the Heifers parade.
On Friday morning, Orly Munzing, who founded the event in 2000, announced the Strolling of the Heifers had disbursed its remaining funds to the Winston Prouty Center, the Downtown Brattleboro Alliance and the Agritech Institute for Small Farms.
The DBA received $25,000, Winston Prouty received $175,000, and the AgriTech Institute received $250,000.
In addition, the Brattleboro Retreat, which had been a longtime partner of the event and hosted a related festival on its campus, will receive the equipment from the Strolling of the Heifers group, which includes a large event tent.
Munzing, who said the Strolling started as “a crazy idea,” had “a wonderful run.”
“It was wonderful thing for the town,” she said. “But when you talk to farmers, what they need is more technology, and that’s the area the Strolling of the Heifers is moving to.”
Dan Smith, the director of the AgriTech Institute, said the event group has “transitioned” into the institute, and that a new board, with some former Strolling members and some new members will be formed.
“We’ve been working with the Strolling of the Heifers board for over a year to position this new organization in a way to be an important clearinghouse for the development and greater adaptation of technology by smaller farms,” said Smith.
Another of the main missions of the institute, he said, is to help small farms adapt to and combat climate change.
The first project the AgriTech Institute is working on is developing “a virtual fence,” also known as “geo-fencing,” similar to an invisible pet fence.
“There’s an auditory signal instead of a shock mechanism,” said Smith.
A dairy farmer can move the herd from a computer or handheld device, rather than having to physically open or close gates, he said, doing away with fencing.
Chloe Leary, executive director of Winston Prouty, said the grant to her organization is meant to connect residents of a planned 300-unit apartment complex on its campus to their food.
“It was a big surprise and a huge honor to be on the receiving end,” said Leary. The idea to use the former campus of the Austine School for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing to help alleviate the housing crisis in Southern Vermont is in the conceptual design phase, she noted.
“We’re looking forward to continuing the work [of the Strolling] and are deeply, deeply grateful,” she said.
The grant to the Downtown Brattleboro Alliance will be used “to carry on our mission, which is to connect people with the food they eat,” said Munzing.
Exactly how that will happen, said Executive Director Kate Trzaskos, will be determined in consultation with the DBA’s board of directors.
Roger Allbee, a former secretary of the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets, a resident of Newfane and a member of the board of the Strolling of the Heifers, characterized the event as “iconic.”
“It became an inspiration to see how it brought attention to, not only the dairy industry, but agriculture and Brattleboro,” he said.