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In 1993, a consortium of educational and nonprofit organizations formed the Pioneer Valley Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture to identify and address issues facing agriculture in the Connecticut River Valley of Massachusetts. With some of the finest agricultural soils in the world, Valley farmers produce vegetables, dairy products, meat, maple syrup, tobacco, and fiber. In addition, the region is home to the cities of Springfield, Chicopee and Holyoke, the academic communities of Amherst and Northampton, rural hill towns, aging mill towns, and suburban communities.
The W. K. Kellogg Foundation’s Integrated Food and Farming Systems initiative awarded the Alliance a four-year grant to assist farmers and others in creating a sustainable regional food and farming system. Stakeholders from retail, farming, media, politics, the nonprofit sector, and the public participated in working groups to improve and strengthen agriculture in the Valley, through a project they called “Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture.”
In 1998, seeing the need to switch from being short-term, grant-funded project to becoming a long-term, formal organization, CISA incorporated and formed a Board of Directors. In 1999, CISA launched the Be a Local Hero, Buy Locally Grown® marketing and education program. With funds from Kellogg and others, CISA’s promotion of farmers and their products reached consumers throughout Franklin, Hampden, and Hampshire counties. Using newspaper and radio advertising, direct mail, bus board signs, buttons, bumper stickers, and point of purchase materials in grocery stores and farm stands, the “Local Hero” slogan became a household phrase. Today, Local Hero is one of CISA’s most well-known programs and recognized regionally and nationally.
In the past two decades, CISA has also launched other innovative programs, which focus on building a resilient, equitable food local food system, with thriving local farms at its center. This work includes an expansive technical assistance program, which links farmers and other local food businesses with funding and expert assistance on a range of topics; anti-hunger efforts through CISA’s Senior FarmShare program and CISA’s support of the statewide Healthy Incentives Program (HIP); and a new effort to help farmers adapt to the changing climate.