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Best Local Blog
When Sienna Wildfield takes her nine-year-old daughter to the Ashfield farmers’ market, she doesn’t worry about keeping track of her every single second. “Half the people there know her,” Wildfield says. “Everyone has an eye on her. It’s a safer community for her to be growing up in.”
That feeling of connection to a community is a big part of what drives Wildfield’s “Hilltown Families,” winner, for the second year, of the award for Best Local Blog. The site, which Wildfield calls an “online grassroots communication network,” has events calendars, essays and art by contributors, podcasts and other goodies, and, its name notwithstanding, covers the four western counties.
Readers can easily discern the ethos behind Wildfield’s work, with its focus on the local and sustainable, non-commercial and often non-mainstream. (While visitors are welcome to post information about, say, the latest Disney on Ice extravaganza to hit the MassMutual Center, Wildfield notes, she’s going to highlight the Pioneer Valley Ballet’s production of the classic “Cinderella.”) But there’s something a little less obvious that drives her, too: a desire to help families make real, multi-generational connections to their communities, the way her own child has.
Hilltown Families focuses a lot on what Wildfield calls “place-based, community-learning opportunities”; on a recent week, that included posts about the coming of CSA farm-share season; the thrill of hearing spring peepers in local vernal pools; a listing about a free astronomy program at Cummington’s Arunah Hill Natural Science Center. Those kinds of opportunities can supplement, in really enriching ways, kids’ school studies, Wildfield says. But they also help create and reinforce families’ connections to the place where they live—something she hopes kids will carry with them as they get older. “If their foundation of what they’re learning is coming from where they live, they grow up and become more invested in their community,” she says. “They want to protect their environment, they want to keep things local, they want to support their local economy, they are more civic minded.”
And whether those kids stay in the Valley when they grow up or move elsewhere, Wildfield hopes they’ll carry that belief in the importance of community with them. “This isn’t a short-term thing,” she says. “It’s a real investment.”