by Martin Langeveld
“Orly, you have to do something about this,” Dwight Miller told his neighbor, Orly Munzing, back in 2001, as they strolled through Miller’s Dummerston, Vermont, orchard. “Farmers are slowly going out of business. People don’t know where their food comes from. If they knew how hard farming is, they’d support their local farmers.”
Munzing took Miller’s words to heart, and then she had an inspiration. She had recently visited Pamplona, Spain, site of the famous Running of the Bulls. As a way of honoring and supporting local farmers, she envisioned a slower, friendlier, female version of Running of the Bulls—Strolling of the Heifers. Farmers would bring their heifer calves, lead them up the historic Main Street of nearby Brattleboro, and afterward, there would be a festival where people could meet the farmers and learn about local foods.
Munzing went to work with a team of volunteers, and the first Strolling of the Heifers parade and festival took place in 2002. The word localvore had not yet been invented (it wasn’t coined until 2005). But from the beginning, the point of Strolling of the Heifers was to support and sustain family farms by connecting people with healthy local food and with the farmers and producers who bring it to them.
While the parade is still the centerpiece (it takes place on Saturday, June 8, at 10 a.m. in downtown Brattleboro), Strolling of the Heifers has blossomed into a year-round set of programs that has expanded beyond local food agriculture into what the organization has called Slow Living—by which it means sustainable living, resilient communities and the personal, inner transformations that are necessary for both.
Besides Stroll Weekend, Strolling of the Heifers has launched, in partnership with Vermont Technical College, a statewide Farm/Food Business Plan Competition with $60,000 in prize money, currently underway, to support innovation and entrepreneurship in farm and food enterprises, including start-ups, existing businesses and student business plans.
In past years, it has also launched a microloan program for farmers, now expanded throughout New England by the Boston-based Carrot Project, and a summer internship program placing young people on local farms, now absorbed into the Windham Regional Career Center.
And just before Stroll Weekend this year, Strolling of the Heifers presents the third annual Slow Living Summit on June 5 to 7. The summit is a gathering of experts and engaged citizens from many fields and multiple sectors for a thoughtful, results-oriented conference in a unique downtown environment, featuring multidisciplinary conversations about key questions of sustainability ranging from local to global issues.
Strolling of the Heifers uses “slow” metaphorically in the same way organizations like Slow Food and Slow Money do—slow as the opposite of fast, slow meaning sustainable. Carlo Petrini, the founder of Slow Food, recently referred to these slow movements, collectively, as a new civilization. We can think of it also as a new economy, or as slow living.
Summit organizers describe slow living as “a more reflective approach to answering how we live, work and play as human beings on a fragile Earth. When we Live Slow, we give back and become more strongly connected to the Earth, to our communities, to our neighbors and to ourselves. A Slow Life is one that seeks the right balance between spirituality, sensuality, introspection and community. A Slow Life recognizes our role as members of our bioregions and of our Earth, taking a nourishing, rather than extractive approach.”
Those who have attended past slow living summits will notice its evolution: “In 2011, a lot of our session described the problems,” said Orly Munzing. “The feedback was: that was great, but we need to hear about solutions. So the 2012 summit focused on solutions.”
“Now,” Munzing said, “people tell us they understand the problems as well as the solutions, but they are realizing there is a component of inner change, a change in spirit, that’s needed to make it happen. So we’ve included sessions on techniques for achieving those inner changes.” Those sessions include such topics as mindful design, meditative gardening, fostering a sense of place and sustainable time management.
The summit takes place in downtown Brattleboro, a vibrant, quirky, progressive community in the heart of New England. The summit’s nontraditional downtown venues, the sidewalks that serve as the conference’s main concourse and the town’s bistros and galleries all encourage fruitful thought, conversation and collaboration.
For complete information about the summit, including detailed schedule and registration, please visit the summit website at slowlivingsummit.org. For information about Strolling of the Heifers, visit strollingoftheheifers.com.