BRATTLEBORO -- For the past 12 years, on the first Saturday in June, the heifers have strolled up Main Street.

Thousands of people have cheered them on and the Strolling of the Heifers parade and celebration of agriculture has grown to be one of Vermont's premier events.

But through all those years the heifers have only been visitors to Main Street.

They have done their stroll and then returned to the barns and fields around Windham County.

This year, in the event's 13th season, as the Heifers walk through the intersection of Main Street and High Street, they will be passing the new year-round home of the Strolling of the Heifers.

Last July, just about a month after the 2013 Strolling of the Heifers weekend, Building a Better Brattleboro announced that Strolling of the Heifers would be moving into the Robert H. Gibson River Garden after two other organizations also made a pitch to take over the Main Street property.

"This year is going to be a special celebration of our beautiful, new glass barn," said Strolling of the Heifer founder Orly Munzing. "I always thought we should have year-round presence on Main Street. It's taken us 13 years, but we finally have it."

The 13th annual Strolling of the Heifers weekend kicks off with a special Gallery Walk and Street Festival Friday night, June 6, in downtown Brattleboro.

The parade starts Saturday, at 10 a.


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m., followed by music, agriculture and energy exhibits and food sales and samples around the Brattleboro Common and the Brattleboro Retreat campus.

The fourth annual Slow Living Summit, a three-day conference on sustainability and intentional living, will be held from June 4 through 6, and the Tour de Heifer bicycle tour is scheduled for Sunday, June 8.

Munzing admits that there have been some challenges with managing a Main Street property on top of organizing a parade for thousands and all of the other reports and events the Strolling of the Heifers takes part in throughout the year.

Before moving into the River Garden, Munzing said she was committed to keeping the space open to the public, and since moving in the group has held a series of brown bag lunches that have brought in musicians and speakers during the week.

At the same time, the building has required upkeep and Munzing is still trying to find the funding to install an air conditioning system and commercial kitchen, though she said hoped both projects would be taken on in the coming year.

"It's been great to be downtown," said Strolling of the Heifers General Manager Julie Potter. "You can feel that connection to the town. There is more of a chance to interface with the community and support one another. There is a lot of potential with a year-round presence."

On one hand, Munzing said, owning the River Garden marks a change in the life of Strolling of the Heifers.

It signifies a big shift in what the organization means to downtown Brattleboro, and opens up a whole new set of possibilities for hosting classes and lectures, for providing the space to other nonprofits, and for building Strolling of the Heifers into an even stronger presence in the state, regional and national discussions on sustainability and local food production.

On the other hand, she said, Strolling of the Heifers has been growing and changing organically from that very first day when Munzing had that discussion with Dwight Miller and the two came up with the idea of having a parade and celebration of local agriculture.

Munzing thought it would be a one-time event, but the first year was such a success that she helped organize a second stroll.

And the rest is history.

For the next week, Munzing will be focused on the parade, the summit and bike tour, and everything else planned for Brattleboro.

Beyond that the future is wide open.

Munzing expects a lot of changes and announcements in the coming year, though she does promise that next year, on the first Saturday in June, the heifers will once again stroll by their beautiful glass barn on Main Street.

"Our mission is to promote sustainable agriculture, celebrate local farmers and connect people with the food they eat. We want to make sure that every single farmer can make a comfortable living for the very important work they do; which is feeding us," Munzing said. "The Strolling of the Heifers is always in transition, because the world is in transition, and the organizations that survive are those that can adapt and change. These are exciting times to be alive in."

Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at hwtisman@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 279.