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May 15, 2009

How to Talk to Cows: The Etiquette of Agritourism

Heifer
Photo: publicenergy on Flickr using Creative Commons

by Sara Tucker

A Vermont farmer we know celebrates Cow Appreciation Day in May. That's when her cows are turned out to pasture after months of winter confinement. Friends and neighbors bring covered dishes and watch the cows frolic. A potluck breakfast follows.

Brattleboro honors cows in June with a three-day bovine beauty pageant kicked off by a parade down Main Street; they call it the Strolling of the Heifers (head nod to Pamplona's running of the bulls). The Billings Farm in Woodstock asks us to appreciate cows (and eat ice cream) in July.

For the uninitiated: Certain topics are never, ever discussed at cow fests, particularly around the cows. Read after the jump to learn more.

At your next cow festival, do not discuss:

* Plummeting milk prices.

* UVM's telephone hotline for struggling dairy farmers.

* The culling and slaughtering of dairy cows.

* The Department of Homeland Security.

* The dumping of bull calves.

* Unilever (or Slate).

* Slashfood.

* When paying homage to cows, you do not joke about greenhouse gas emissions or make nerdy remarks about how, as a group, cows are more gassy than all forms of fossil fuel-based transport combined. For acceptable cow jokes, go here (sample: Do you know why the cow jumped over the moon? The farmer had cold hands).

* You do not dismiss the locavore and organic food movements as "so 2008."

Vermont's cows deserve appreciation, having labored on behalf of two very prominent industries, food and tourism. Vermont dairy farmers are going broke and the cows themselves are in deep doo-doo, but agritourism is thriving. Beneficiaries of bovine largesse include proud state symbols like the Vermont Cheese Trail, Ben & Jerry's ice-cream factory, the Billings Farm and Museum, and the Cabot Creamery. Such enterprises help preserve Vermont's wholesome image, and reassure visitors that all is well in dairyland.

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