Apple Hill - a community working together creatively
It was an economic fiasco half a century ago that started the foothills fall phenomenon known as Apple Hill, a community of small businesses about 45 minutes east of Sacramento. Fifty years later the vacation spot known for pie, cider and winding roads continues to be a favorite weekend jaunt for folks from the Sacramento region. The details of how the group of orchard owners turned a disaster into a major success is a lesson for California communities of all kinds, including and especially creative communities.
Apple Hill - - and that's "Apple Hill" followed by the little "R" for registered trademark sign - began after a disastrous pear harvest in 1960. Many of the local farmers on the ridge in the Sierra Mountain foothills were about to go under. Rather than succumb to financial ruin, a group of growers got together and essentially had a bake sale to keep their orchards going.
They hoped that word would reach Sacramento and folks would drive up the hill for enough pie, cookies and local entertainment -- from music to pony rides -- to keep them going to the next year. The effort was wildly successful, the one-time event turned into an annual tradition, and the smart growers banded together as the official Apple Hill Growers Association.
The first thing that the community did was come together and not try and compete with each other. By banding together, they were able to analyze their assets and strategize how to support the entire region. They worked together for tours and events in the same way that that the artists in the Palm Springs area are providing hand-on arts tourism for visitors.
They provided community events in places that were on their way to becoming decrepit and underused, just like the murals in Sand City, the band shell and park in Pasadena, or the art galleries in Santa Monica's Bergamot Station. They changed the media story from one of pear blight to apple pie, just as the St. Paul story changed from traffic and construction to arts events and attractions. But most of all they looked at their assets - the people and their creative energy - and banded together to find their greatest strength in community to create essentially an ongoing food festival.
There's plenty of creative assets in all California communities - large and small - that can be utilized even in this tough economy. The California Arts Council website lists hundreds of festivals throughout the state that demonstrate our will and desire to have arts in our communities. Local governments may be strapped, but a small investment in the arts and creative communities can have a huge impact in the long run.
This article was written by California Arts Council staff in February 2013