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St. James Marketplace literally put the tiny Cedar County community back on the map, but it has done so much more.

Curt Arens, Editor, Nebraska Farmer

September 30, 2014

3 Min Read

This past Sunday, I took our crew over to the other end of Bow Creek, to the hamlet of St. James for the annual St. James Marketplace HeritageFest. This festival included some of our family’s favorite things, like homemade food, animals and old-time farm activities like hand log sawing and rope making. We took turns cranking an ice cream maker and were able to sample the end product. We tried several different varieties of homemade pies. We enjoyed a leisurely ride in a horse-drawn cart, and the boys loved riding the ponies.


We saw a long parade of antique tractors, and the kids were able to learn about how ear corn was ground, shelled and graded in the old days. There wasn’t anything flashy about the activities going on at HeritageFest. But, an event like this bridges generations of farm families and solidifies rural communities in a way that no mobile app, social media or webpage could do.

It was only 14 years ago when historic St. James nearly disappeared from the map. When St. Phillip and James Catholic parish closed and the church building was razed, many local folks thought that their community, which has a rich and colorful history, had come to an end. But, to their credit, five farm wives had a different idea. Louise Guy, Vicky Koch, Jeanette Pinkelman, Mary Rose Pinkelman and Violet Pinkelman put their heads and substantial talents together and came up with a plan to revitalize the memory, heritage and farming legacy of their beloved community.

In the summer of 2001, the ladies and several other vendors opened the St. James Marketplace in one room at the historic former Catholic school building on the grounds of their former parish. That year they had 16 vendors selling homegrown farm produce and goods and handcrafted artisan products. By 2002, they Marketplace had 32 vendors, and rented two rooms in the schoolhouse. A year later, the vendor list had grown to 60, and the ladies purchased the schoolhouse and began to completely refurbish the entire building.

RELATED: Saving St. James - American Profile

Now, after nearly a decade and a half, the ladies are still doing their thing in the same schoolhouse that is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. They have grown the reputation of their venture in leaps and bounds. It hasn’t been an easy journey, but they have provided a way for local community members to gather and sell their wares, and for visitors to learn more about the early history of Cedar County and about agriculture and community spirit in rural America.

Thanks to the Marketplace and events like HeritageFest, my family benefits from their efforts and I appreciate the hard work, sweat and prayers that continue to go into what they are doing at St. James.

Here is this week's discussion question. What was the last farm heritage event that you and your family attended? You can leave your thoughts and observations here.

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About the Author(s)

Curt Arens

Editor, Nebraska Farmer

Curt Arens began writing about Nebraska’s farm families when he was in high school. Before joining Farm Progress as a field editor in April 2010, he had worked as a freelance farm writer for 27 years, first for newspapers and then for farm magazines, including Nebraska Farmer.

His real full-time career, however, during that same period was farming his family’s fourth generation land in northeast Nebraska. He also operated his Christmas tree farm and grew black oil sunflowers for wild birdseed. Curt continues to raise corn, soybeans and alfalfa and runs a cow-calf herd.

Curt and his wife Donna have four children, Lauren, Taylor, Zachary and Benjamin. They are active in their church and St. Rose School in Crofton, where Donna teaches and their children attend classes.

Previously, the 1986 University of Nebraska animal science graduate wrote a weekly rural life column, developed a farm radio program and wrote books about farm direct marketing and farmers markets. He received media honors from the Nebraska Forest Service, Center for Rural Affairs and Northeast Nebraska Experimental Farm Association.

He wrote about the spiritual side of farming in his 2008 book, “Down to Earth: Celebrating a Blessed Life on the Land,” garnering a Catholic Press Association award.

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