Cows, connections & caring–in Vermont

Cows, connections & caring–in Vermont

calf-with-flowers
Twenty years later and Vermont is still giving me warm fuzzies for things I didn’t even know I cared about–like politics or energy or something called a “heifer.”

Last month at the River Garden was just one of those times. Students from area schools gathered for a mid-point check in on their science projects for the upcoming Neighborhood Energy Science Fair, sponsored by the Strolling of the Heifers.*

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Executive Director Orly Munzing addressing students.

Executive Director Orly Munzing, who founded the Strolling, was on site to address the participants as they prepared to have their work reviewed by science professionals. She told these young innovators that their passion for energy science would help define the future of this planet, and as such, they would serve as ambassadors–educating others, even adults, especially adults. (I got chills.)

I’m only just beginning to comprehend the full scope of what has transformed (in my mind) from a novelty parade into a movement, experienced closeup through my children, who insisted on going to that first “cow” parade in 2002.

A decade later, one of those children is among those enthusiastically preparing an entry for the science fair.

My son Aidan, 13, has been working with peers, Leander, 12, and Cyrus, 10, on a project they began shaping last winter at their elementary school. After School Program Coordinator Emily Wagner worked with regional educator Lisa Holderness from the Vermont Energy Education Program*(VEEP) to engage students who were interested in energy science and who might like participate in the Strolling’s Neighborhood Science Fair which they were helping to sponsor.

It’s exactly these kind of opportunities that create the warm fuzzy feeling that Vermont so freely offers; and its the conscious connections behind those fuzzies, so richly interwoven, that make it hard to know who to thank for making Vermont such a caring place.

But I’d like to try, simply as an exercise in appreciation and recognition:

Was it the Strolling of the Heifer Parade, and the accompanying events that ignited an interest in sustainable energy for my son? Was it the after school seed-growingscience programs, partially funded by the VT Agency of Education, that flamed that interest? Was it his teachers at Marlboro Elementary who, year after year, emphasized experiential, place-based education, capped by independent research, followed by field study abroad and at the Nation’s Capitol with opportunities for social activism? Was it the accessibility of government officials, like VT Governor Peter Shumlin and Senator Bernie Sanders, which so empowered him? Was it our neighbor, Gary MacArthur, who installed our hot water solar panels? Or was it my husband and our community who raised the energy-efficient home in which we live? Was it our grocery store–The Brattleboro Food Co-op whose mission includes outreach and education–connecting food, people and place? Was it the unique community of Brattleboro itself, known for its activism, art and engagement and the enthusiastic support of that by local businesses? Or was it something even simpler, like the hatching project in my son’s kindergarten classroom, or the visit to the local farm in first and second grade, or the creation of the school garden in third and fourth grade–each supported along the way by educational grants from the Strolling of the Heifers?

You’ll have to ask Aidan and his friends, Leander and Cyrus, why they devoted week after week of their free time to a project that even their parents don’t fully comprehend. You’ll find them Saturday, after the parade, on the Brattleboro Commons, as part of the Slow Living Expo, at the center of the Home Energy Village where the first annual Neighborhood Energy Science Fair takes place!

~kelly salasin

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Students meet with science professionals at the River Garden in May.

sothLogo1*Now in its second decade, the Strolling of the Heifers has grown from a small-town parade (of cows) into a regional movement with year-round programs and events. The Stroll has expanded its horizons to include not only sustainable agriculture and food systems, but other aspects of local economic sustainability, highlighted by a three-day Slow Living Summit which opens tomorrow, June 4th, 2014. The parade and fairgrounds take place on Saturday, June 7th.

VEEP (Vermont Energy Education Program) is one of the sponsors of The Neighborhood Science Fair. Founded in 1979, their mission is to cultivate energy literacy among Vermont students. “Students who understand energy and how it works will make more informed choices about energy use and inspire others to do the same.”

VEEP_WPlogo4An Energy Literate Person Knows:

  • What our energy resources are and how we utilize them
  • The many ways electricity is made and the advantages and disadvantages of each
  • Why it is important to use energy wisely and how to do so
  • How government policy effects our energy choices

An Energy Literate Person Chooses:

    • To use energy wisely, recognizing the impact of their choice on climate change, our environment and our economy
    • To share their knowledge and inspire action and learning in others

To schedule a free in-class presentation, or learn more about VEEP’s standards-based curricula and ‘hands-on’ science methods, visit www.veep.org.

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an afternoon with… cheese

an afternoon with… cheese

Against my better judgement, I signed up to work the cheese “stroll” following the annual Heifer Parade, thereby prolonging the mayhem of Brattleboro–instead of making the mad dash out of town right after Bernie waves–which is when the crowd cheers and moves en masse toward the fair upon the “Retreat” Grounds–which I might have to check into after today.

When I descend the steep hill from the Town Green to the fields below, and find my way to the Co-op’s tent, I am surprised to discover that I won’t be standing right behind the platters of cheese like I’ve seen workers in aprons do in years past. Instead, the role that my husband and I are assigned to is: behind the lines to cut the cheese. (I never noticed those people before.)

Champlain Valley Creamery’s beautiful soft ripened triple crème cheese with a bloomy white rind

I’ve never cut the cheese either, and as I attempt to learn the varieties in front of me, I wonder why the coordinator doesn’t just rely on member workers from her own department. It would make her job simpler; but she says that she likes to spread the wealth. And spread, we do; because Casey and I are assigned to the spreading table.

Olive and herb goat cheese.

Camembrie.

Triple Cream.

Bijou.

Ash.

After an hour, I find myself in a rhythm of cutting and spreading, discreetly placing the broken rice things dipped in cheese aside for my own covert snacking; and carefully wiping the leftover cheese crumbles from the cutting board onto my salad for the lunch I will eat when  this two hour shift is done.

I’ve never realized how sensual a cheese can be; and despite the heat and the crowds, I am happy.  I don’t care how much cheese people eat, and whether they appreciate it, or whether they consider visiting the Co-op to buy it, because I am one with the cheese, and its virtue transcends consumerism.

I am so happy (and a bit delirious) that when it is finally time for me and cheese to part, that I decide to stick around at the fair, and listen to music, and dance, and eat my salad with the assorted cheese crumbles.

Somehow cutting the cheese made the difference between fleeing from–and floating through–this afternoon in Brattleboro.

I am still on the grounds when the day closes, licking brie from my fingers.

It’s not that cheese is new to me. I’ve visited France. And I’ve always appreciated the cheese department of the Brattleboro Co-op–back to the days when Henry cut the cheese.

But now I have a greater intimacy with this craft. It’s become personal–and local–made right here in the Green Mountain State– by small farms with names I know~

Jasper Hill Creamery.

Champlain Valley Creamery.

Vermont Butter & Cheese Creamery.

Blythedale Farm…

Now when I’m shopping, I pause even longer at the cheese counter… My husband and I pick up one familiar soft friend after another, and gently caress it like a lover. We consider signing up for the same shift next year, and in the meantime, we decide to make a date with a baguette, a bottle of wine, and some artisanal cheeses from around our state.

Kelly Salasin, June 2011

ps. Casey & I did sign up to work the cheese stroll in 2012–and cheerfully reported to duty–even in the pouring rain.

for more on the Brattleboro Co-op:

Farewell Brattleboro Co-op

Blogging for Food, a tribute to my Co-op, Blog Action Day

Open for Business in Brattleboro!