Harvesting Hills and History
The Mississippi River’s rolling hills are growing a stronger regional economy.
Lesley Barker traces the line of Mississippi River towns on a framed 1757 map of “New France.” She points to Ste. Genevieve, Missouri; Kaskaskia, Illinois; and Cahokia, Illinois.
No Gateway to the West.
“We are first,” she says. “There is no St. Louis.”
Founded in 1735, Ste. Genevieve is the oldest permanent European settlement in Missouri. The town is a hub of the Mississippi River Hills Region, one of MU Extension’s 11 Community and Entrepreneurial Development (ExCEED) regions. Launched in 2005, ExCEED seeks to improve regional economies by getting businesses, nonprofits and government to encourage entrepreneurship and market the region’s unique attributes.
Much of Ste. Genevieve’s rich cultural heritage is enshrined in the Bolduc House Museum, which Barker runs. The living history museum testifies to the region’s colonial French history and architecture. The Bolduc House employs French-style post-in-ground vertical log construction, meaning that upright logs planted in the ground form the house’s walls. Of the five such buildings still standing in North America, three are in Ste. Genevieve.
Besides history, Mississippi River Hills’ qualities include rolling hills with tops that protect vineyards from puddles of water and pockets of frosty air; local artisans who produce everything from art to goat cheese; and specialty retailers offering organic compost, cured meats and hand-crafted garments from locally raised alpaca.
Cooperation has taken the form of the Mississippi River Hills Association (MHRA), a dues-supported association of those same retailers, artisans and cultural heritage sites such as the Bolduc House. MHRA sponsors farm-to-table agritourism events and produces and maintains a website, promotional map and tourist brochures.
“Rural areas are where the flavor of America is,” says Elaine Hoffmeister Mooney, AFNR ’96, winemaker at the Sainte Genevieve Winery. “Marketing for a small business costs so much money, and the way we can partner together and collaborate funds — that’s huge.”