Rather than accept gifts for her 16th birthday party, Emma Merritt of Lenox asked her friends to donate to the fight against breast cancer -- specifically, the Pan Mass Challenge, the bike ride across Massachusetts that raises money for the Dana Farber Cancer Institute and the Jimmy Fund.

Her mom, Suzanne, a personal trainer at Lenox Fitness Center and Spa in Lenox, had an aggressive and rare form of breast cancer last year.

"I received all my treatment at Dana Farber in Boston and they saved my life," Suzanne Merritt told County Fare. "This year, I am riding in the PMC and I am committed to raising money so that I can pay it forward for all that Dana Farber did for me."

The Pan Mass Challenge is a two-day ride across the state to raise money and awareness for the hospitals with 100 percent of donations going directly to patient care and research.

Emma decided that she'd rather help with her mom's fundraising than accept gifts for herself on her birthday. Through her efforts, she raised more than $850 toward the $4,300 her mom has committed to raise.

"I was humbled by her effort and the care and concern shown by all her friends," Suzanne Merritt said.

Dishing out the praise: The state commissioner of the Department of Agricultural Resources praised several Berkshire County groups that support local agriculture as "visionary" and said efforts are taking root statewide to cut the travel distance from farms to the kitchen table.

Commissioner Gregory Watson spoke about community supported agriculture to a large crowd that gathered for the recent annual meeting of the Community Land Trust in the Southern Berkshires. The Community Land Trust, a nonprofit organization, supports local farms.

Watson estimated 12 percent of food is locally grown in Massachusetts and cited academic research indicating that 50 to 70 percent is feasible and attainable.

A self-descried believer in climate change, Watson said community-supported agriculture could be a "revolutionary economic activity" for sustainable living. The goal will only be achieved by a "practical visionary," though, and he singled out the Schumacher Center for a New Economics, based in Great Barrington and known for its work in sustainable economics, and the Community Land Trust as positive models for promoting an ecologically sustainable society.

Watson said the nation has reached a fork in the road when it comes to supporting agriculture locally.

With some laughter from the crowd, he quoted New York Yankees player Yogi Berra, famous for nonsensical quotes, when he "If you see a fork in the road, take it."

Berkshire music acts battle: Tonight, Berkshire County's own reggae rock group Rebel Alliance will duke it out against two other bands at the Hard Rock Café at Foxwoods Resort and Casino as part of the 2013 Hard Rock Rising local bands competition.

Pittsfield native and singer-songwriter Matt Cusson was previously part of and advanced to this final round of competition as well, but he told The Eagle he can't make the final battle tonight. Instead, Rebel Alliance will go up against Connecticut-based metal band Symphony of Malice and rock group Mission Transmission.

To learn more about the Foxwoods Hard Rock competition, visit: http://on.fb.me/YGyd4k. To learn about the global competition, visit: http://bit.ly/ybOzaT.