Penns Valley, Pa.: A Chain of Tradition

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Photo by Cyndy Engley
Several hamlets make up the Penns Valley, Penn, community.

Each year, MOTHER EARTH NEWS selects a handful of sustainable communities to highlight in our annual Great Places feature. Check out the other towns featured in our 2014 installment:8 Great Places You’ve (Maybe) Never Heard Of.

Penns Valley, Pennsylvania. This community in central Pennsylvania is not a single city, but a string of tiny towns that dot the valley along the main roadway. Its beautiful ridge-and-valley topography challenged settlers who arrived in the early 1800s, but many of those families remained in the area, forming the communities of Millheim, Centre Hall and Spring Mills.

“The older generations in this area set a tone with their mores and traditions,” says Cyndy Engle, who has lived in the area for 12 years and was attracted to it because of its undercurrent of respect and care, as well as her appreciation of the area’s history. It is, however, a place where a “quick trip” to the grocery store can end up taking an hour, she says. “You see people you know in every aisle and you stop to catch up on their family news. The deli counter person knows what your family likes and also makes recommendations for events going on in the valley. At checkout, the cashier not only knows your name, but also how you like to have your produce packed.

“The grocery shelves are lined with products bearing local family names,” Engle says. “I love knowing that the food I eat was grown in the same soil as that on the bottom of my shoes.”

Brian Snyder of the nationally recognized Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture says PASA works statewide to bring farmers together to learn from each other and to build relationships with consumers looking for fresh, local and sustainably produced food. “Our soils are rich here, and home gardens proliferate — many in the front yard,” Snyder says. “Many gardeners grow their own meat animals alongside their vegetable gardens.”

Though it is part of the State College, Penn., metropolitan statistical area, drivers through Penns Valley frequently share the road with the horsedrawn buggies of local Amish residents. The valley abounds with quality dairies and Pennsylvania leads the country in availability of raw milk, says PASA’s Lauren Smith. The organization has worked to keep raw milk legal and the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture has supported that initiative. Nearly 200 farms throughout the state are now licensed to sell raw milk.

The quickest way for newcomers to become a part of the community, Engle says, is to volunteer and demonstrate that they’re willing to work for the betterment of life there. Protecting the land and water have been citizen priorities, she says, because everyone knows that the great local foods they enjoy depend on good water and land that’s safe from pollutants.

Stats: Penns Valley, Pennsylvania

Population: 2,424
Climate: 42” annual avg. precip.; January avg. high: 35 degrees F; July avg. high: 81 degrees F
Median Household Income:  $47,419
Median Home Price:  $147,781

K.C. Compton is an editor for MOTHER EARTH NEWS and formerly was Editor in Chief of our sister publication, GRIT. She has visited 44 U.S. states, and sees great places and meets great people everywhere she goes. Find her on Google+.