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Shutesbury man to head state’s farm-to-school food program

AMHERST — Michael DeChiara of Shutesbury has been selected to become the new executive director of the Massachusetts Farm To School Project, an Amherst-based nonprofit organization that works to help get locally grown food into public and private schools and universities.

He will begin working there on Dec. 2.

DeChiara, 52, has worked at the United Way of Pioneer Valley as the interim director of the Community Impact department and the manager of Community Initiatives. He is also the chairman of the Shutesbury School Committee and a member of the Amherst-Pelham Regional School Committee.

“I am thrilled to be working with Mass. Farm To School. It’s a great organization and a great issue, and I think there’s a real exciting nexus between farming, school systems, healthy food and vibrant communities,” said DeChiara.

“The organization works to promote economically strong and viable farms, to bring healthy food to schools and ultimately to support vibrant communities,” he said. “It’s important work for our region and the state.”

DeChiara said that he is particularly excited about working in Amherst and the Pioneer Valley again, referring to it as a “national hot spot” for the type of work he will be doing with Farm To School.

“We are so lucky to live where we live, because the Pioneer Valley is phenomenal. Between groups like CISA, the Farmland Trust, Grow Food Amherst and PV Growers there’s just a lot of people who know and care about this,” he said.

DeChiara is a graduate of Tufts University, where he earned a dual master’s degree in Public Policy and Citizen Participation and Urban and Environmental Policy with a focus in nonprofit management.

He also holds a bachelor’s degree in government from Cornell University. He brings nearly 30 years of non-profit management experience to his new position, and has worked with a number of other advocacy groups and organizations such as Greenpeace USA, Shelter Inc., Rosie’s Place and Community Partners Inc of Amherst.

“We’re really excited to have him on board. It’s a new chapter for us,” said Erika Zekos, the project’s development, communications and outreach coordinator. “His passion for the work comes with a deep knowledge of nonprofit and social justice work management skills. He’s conveyed his enthusiasm, and he’s excited to meet our partners across the region to continue making changes in the food system.”

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