August 21, 2017|By Bicky Redman| Community Development

Few things make me as happy as witnessing “The Bloom” each April on the southern slopes of South Mountain in Pennsylvania, when 20,000 acres of cherry, peach, and apple trees present an absolutely breathtaking landscape of hill after rolling hill of blossoms. A strong bloom is more than just beautiful to behold—it also signals that this year’s crop will be strong and hopefully sustain the generations of growers who have farmed these hills for over 150 years.

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South Mountain’s fruit trees in bloom. Photos by Loy Elliott.

This is indeed a treasured landscape, and its importance and prominence to this region has further unfolded over the last few years. This encouraging trend is in large part the result of an organized group representing local government, community members and business leaders who attended the Balancing Nature and Commerce Workshop sponsored by the South Mountain Partnership back in April 2010. The mission of the Partnership is “to enrich the quality of life and sense of place of the South Mountain region’s citizens and communities,” with the goals of conserving, stewarding and raising awareness of all the resources that make the South Mountain landscape unique.

As an attendee at that workshop, I saw firsthand how the Conservation Leadership Network (CLN) brings partners together to work collaboratively toward a deeper understanding about how conservation is a viable option for economic vitality.

8 21 groupphotoOur group traveled to the Allenberry Resort in Boiling Springs, Pennsylvania for the Balancing Nature and Commerce Workshop in April 2010. Photo provided by Bicky Redman.

As a program of The Conservation Fund, CLN shares the fundamental belief that environmental protection can and does support a healthy, viable economy. Their Balancing Nature and Commerce in Rural Communities and Landscapes national workshop is just one example of how they bring awareness, education, collaboration, and problem solving to achieve conservation solutions in a variety of ways.

While at the workshop, we received guidance in formulating a vision along with goals that encompass the “enduring value” of our region’s agricultural resources, builds cohesiveness among its business, agricultural and tourism communities, educates its citizens on the need for sound land use planning, and creates an engaging environment.

Our community leaders were seeking ways to promote, market and share this region while also protecting its natural resources. For example, one challenge we identified was to attract more of the 1.2 million visitors that come each year to the National Military Park located in Gettysburg in Adams County. Visitors for the most part were unaware of the South Mountain region—its unique landscape, agricultural bounty and cultural heritage.

We took many lessons and our action plan home with us, and we’ve been working over the past seven years to implement what we learned. During this time we have cemented our involvement in the South Mountain Partnership. We have created a gateway interpretive project to raise awareness of the South Mountain area focusing on its history, culture and future. We have branded this special landscape with distinctive signage to deepen a sense of place. We have broadened our group of stakeholders to bridge the divide between the business community and the environmental community. We have engaged government officials, tourism agencies and academics in supporting and promoting this special region.

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Our distinctive signage is helping to deepen a sense of place and welcome visitors. Photos by Loy Elliott.

And, we have quantified the importance of the fruit industry to our region and the state. Our newly completed economic assessment values the local impact of this industry at $580 million, supporting 8,500 jobs, while creating a statewide impact 2 to 4 times greater.

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Our work is certainly not done. Our stakeholders are working on current issues such as a dwindling labor force that is making it harder to harvest crops. Thankfully, innovative technology is assisting in creating new efficiencies in the field. Marketing efforts are evolving too, as our younger growers are embracing new avenues of growth by turning apples into craft ciders and planting vineyards to complement their apple trees. The fruit belt is on its way to becoming a destination for those many visitors who come to Gettysburg. And, we are beginning to promote ourselves as “America’s Orchard,” as our fruit products are served in over 75 percent of the restaurants and institutions across the country.

These are exciting times and as I look back at our start and the energy it generated and the evolution that it has created I remember CLN’s workshop that brought us all together.

Helping Rural Communities Thrive—By Balancing Nature And Commerce

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