An unlikely pairing of Vermont farmers with artists, environmentalists and others has resulted in a summer-long celebration of hay.

Celebrating hay? Yep, says Pat Parsons, an art gallery owner who spearheaded a combination of hay-related events.

"I always think that hayfields are magnificent and am aware that they are shrinking as the farms are shrinking and the agricultural industry is challenged," Parsons says.

"In Vermont," she adds, "only 3% of the population still lives on farms, and the other 97% really know very little about the agricultural industry. Most of us don't know anything about hay."

Her solution: the "Hay Project," a combination of art exhibits and educational programs highlighting the hay industry, held in and around Shelburne, VT.

It opened with a bang on July 18, offering glimpses of an environmental sculpture made with hay bales, sculptural mowing designs and a hay bale maze designed and built by local school children.

The project actually includes a number of events and runs through mid-October. Its supporters include the state ag department, the University of Vermont and the Vermont Arts Council. Shelburne Farms, a 1,400-acre working farm and nonprofit environmental education organization, is hosting many of the hay-related sculptures and events.

"The goal is to have some really positive new awareness of hayfields. I hope farmers don't think we're being totally crazy," says Parsons.

Here's a sample of some of the many events still being offered:

* Two major site-specific sculptures - one by Brooklyn-based Robert Chambers and one by a University of Vermont art faculty team: Bill Davison, Ed Owre and Kathleen Schneider.

* A 500 x 150' hay sculpture mowed into a hayfield, called Semper Hay.

* Contemporary art exhibits showing artists' changing visions of the rural landscape.

* Family programs demonstrating plantings of grains, grasses and hay.

* A "maize maze," hayrides and a petting zoo.

* Border collie demonstrations of sheep herding, plus hand-shearing, spinning, carding and weaving demonstrations.

* A Kids' Harvest Festival, where children pick, dig and gather food crops. Music, storytelling, games and crafts for children will also be offered.

* Pasture walks at farms practicing rotational grazing, plus discussion on how owners produce high-quality hay.

* A slide show seminar on historic barns and farm buildings by Thomas Visser, author of Field Guide to New England Barns and Farm Buildings.

* A panel discussion on Vermont's grass-based agriculture.

For more information, check out the Web site at: www.state. or call Shelburne Farms at 802-985-8686.