2023 Local Hero Awardee: Massachusetts Food System Collaborative

Each year, CISA presents Local Hero Awards to farms, businesses, or individuals who exemplify our mission of strengthening farms and engaging the community to build the local food economy. We applaud their hard work, social responsibility, and many contributions to sustaining local agriculture.

Winton Pitcoff, Director of The Massachusetts Food System Collaborative, accepting their Local Hero Award. Stephanie Craig Photography.

The Massachusetts Food System Collaborative was founded to support the goals set in the Massachusetts Local Food Action Plan, which was completed in 2015 as a result of several years work and the input of thousands of stakeholders across the state. The (paraphrased!) top-level goals of that plan are: 1) to increase production, sales, and consumption of Massachusetts-grown foods, 2) to create jobs and economic opportunity in food and farming and improve wages of food system workers, 3) to protect the land and water needed to produce food and ensure food safety, and 4) to reduce hunger and food insecurity, make healthy food more available, and reduce food waste. Those are lofty and absolutely necessary goals, and the Collaborative is working towards them through collective action, with a focus on legislative advocacy.

Winton Pitcoff, Director of the Collaborative, says that after the plan was developed, there was a core group of participants who wanted to make sure it didn’t just sit on the shelf – and who also understood that there were a lot of groups already doing this work in so many ways across the state. But there was one big missing piece, which was the focus on policy in a coordinated, state-wide coalition. The MA Food System Collaborative would become the policy staff for organizations that don’t have dedicated policy staff, while also working on building capacity in that realm.

Some highlights of their work, which happens with the input and leadership of partner organizations, advocates, and issue experts, include successfully advocacy for $59 million for HIP since the program began in 2017, working towards policy shifts to make that program more equitable, and turning it into a year-round program. The Collective has also led advocacy efforts to fund FSIG, the Food Security Infrastructure Grant Program; new funding for UMass Extension; a new grant program for food policy councils, and too much more to name.

Those are some of the specifics, but the big picture is that Collaborative has been an essential part of changing the conversation around food and agriculture so that policy-makers see it as fundamental to the economy, health, and overall well-being of our state. So for all of that, CISA is pleased to present a 2023 Local Hero Award to the Massachusetts Food System Collaborative.

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