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 1999, CISA incorporated as a 501c(3) organization, formed a Board of Directors, and 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. CISA has also launched other innovative programs.

In 2013, CISA celebrated its 20th anniversary with a series of panels, potlucks, and other opportunities for community celebration and education. Read about the year’s activities here, and find a review of our impact here.