By Hannah McDonald, NOFA/Mass Western MA Regenerative Food System Coordinator

One of NOFA/Mass’s new endeavors for 2021 has been to develop the “Western Massachusetts Regenerative Food System” (or “WMRFS”). This intent for this program is to provide structure, support and education for residents of Western Massachusetts who are interested in strengthening a food system that ensures access to good food, builds healthy soils and creates economic opportunities through practices that are ecologically sound and socially just.

Since January, the fledgling WMRFS has focused on developing relationships with community members and stakeholders throughout the western half of the state who share these common goals. Ultimately, we would like to turn these informal relationships into strong, bioregional partnerships that regenerate our land, people and food system as a whole. Current active partners include Launchspace’s new Pleasant Street School garden site, Local Harmony, the Thriving Resilient Communities Collaboratory, UMass Amherst, Regenerative Food Network, and many other farmers and activists throughout the Pioneer Valley.

The term “regenerative” is somewhat controversial due to the lack of a shared definition amongst the farming community. But it’s a powerful one nonetheless. Used in our name and in our work, “regenerative” references the capacity of a practice to grow, enhance, and replace practices that no longer serve our society, nor the generations that follow. Regenerative food systems, by our definition, increase the presence of healthy soils, robust ecosystems, and quality foods that give back to the Earth, rather than degrading or extracting from the environment.

By exploring big picture questions related to food system practices like “is this equitable for all involved?”, “how does this practice empower local farmers, food system workers and consumers?”, and “will this practice make us more resilient in the face of the climate crisis?” we begin to unpack the many aspects of our current food system that could be improved.

Nurturing Relationships: A Key to Health and Wellness

But where do we start? Currently, WMRFS is organizing several educational and networking opportunities that highlight regenerative farming and land use practices. We also intend to shine a light on gaps or bottlenecks in local food production and distribution, as well as advocate for policies that support farmers and consumers.

Some of the more specific solutions that WMRFS is organizing around include creating and expanding access to: 

  • Community kitchens and gardens
  • Value-added products
  • Competency in regenerative farming techniques
  • Increased health, wellness and nutrient dense foods
  • Cooperative enterprises
  • Equitable economic systems and collaborative funding
  • Opportunities to be an active local steward. 

An educational event organized by WMRFS earlier this year. Photo credit: Hannah McDonald

Place-based emergence drives our vision. We recognize that regeneration is specific to each place in its social, economic and environmental contexts, and one-size-fits-all solutions aren’t always solutions at all. Truly regenerative solutions to complex issues are multidimensional and must prioritize equity, access, environmental health, relationships and collective action. We believe that investing in regenerative local food systems will create healthier societies and economies that allow our people and places to thrive.

Inspired by the food system visions of Food Solutions New England and New England Feeding New England, we have set a goal for the Western Massachusetts area to grow and source 30% of our bioregion’s food regeneratively by 2030. Organizing towards this goal requires unique inputs, actions and shared stories from individuals and organizations so that we can strengthen our common vision.

We invite you to join this conversation by attending one or more of the upcoming events in our Community Engagement Series, which highlights regenerative agricultural and community practices.

Wild Grapes as a Healing and Resilient Food
Friday October 1, 2021 5:00pm – 6:30pm
Foxtrot Herb Farm, Ashfield, MA
Optional donation for attendance: $10-$20

Dive into the culinary and medicinal traditions of grape leaves- vertical, abundant and on the edge- and make your own, together. More information and registration here.

Wheelview Farm Tour and Discussion
Saturday October 16, 2021 2:00pm – 5:00pm
Wheelview Farm, Shelburne Falls, MA
Optional donation for attendance: $10-$20

Come explore grass fed beef in Western, MA with a farm tour and discussion at Wheelview Farm. More information and registration here.

“Invasive” Plant Attunement – Curiosity at the Edge
Saturday October 23, 2021 10:00am – 1:00pm
Mill River Recreation Area, Amherst, MA
Optional donation for attendance: $10-$20

Plant attunement with local “invasive” species – practicing communication, curiosity and creativity with our local flora. More information and registration here.

If you are interested in collaborating with WMRFS, or would like to support the vision of WMRFS, please reach out to Hannah McDonald at, and explore the WMRFS website at