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Celebrating the courage to try something new in rural America

Every small town and rural area needs community builders, those willing to step out in confidence to try a new idea and to encourage connection, business support and expand on what a small-town offers.

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Emily and Kenny Dobmeier moved back to Thompson, North Dakota, after living in Iowa for their careers and opened Highway 15 Market in June 2021 as an occasional shop from their yard. They plan to expand indoors with a Holiday Market at the Thompson Community Center on Saturday, Nov. 20. Katie Pinke / Agweek
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Who is building up a new business idea in your community or rural corner of America? When I saw Highway 15 Market on a social media post this summer, I knew instantly I needed to find it.

I drive Highway 15 in eastern North Dakota more than any other road these days. We’re building a family home near the highway and expanded our small business on the same land. Highway 15 serves as my main road, west to the farm, east to the big town of Grand Forks or to Interstate 29. I drive Highway 15 to and from our kids’ sporting events weekly. While it wasn’t a highway yet, my ancestors first homesteaded just south of what is now Highway 15.

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Shoppers visit the occasional shop of Highway 15 Market on a recent Sunday afternoon. The shop is on the land where Emily and Kenny Dobmeier raise their family in what was Kenny's childhood home on the edge of Thompson, North Dakota. Katie Pinke / Agweek

On a recent Sunday, my husband, Nathan, daughter Anika, 12, and I ventured east to find Highway 15 Market. Just on the west side of Thompson, North Dakota, where you drastically slow down on Highway 15 to drive through the small town, I spotted Highway 15 Market signs in the ditch. Ahead we could see a small gathering of cars alongside a tabletop, tent and converted pickup box with a metal roof.

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Every small town and rural area needs community builders, those willing to step out in confidence to try a new idea and to encourage connection, business support and to expand on what a small-town offers, says Katie Pinke. Highway 15 Market opened in 2021 at Thompson, North Dakota, by Emily and Kenny Dobmeier and serves as an example. Photo taken Sept. 26, 2021. Katie Pinke / Agweek

There I met the market creator and owner Emily Dobmeier and her husband, Kenny. After living in Iowa for their careers for four years, they returned to Kenny’s hometown. They renovated Kenny’s childhood home on the edge of Thompson, right along Highway 15, and are raising their two children, Olive, 4, and Levon, 6, on the property.

Both with full-time jobs and young children, Emily shared with me she craved to have “the things we had where we lived before” in Davenport, Iowa. She looked for commercial real estate availability in Thompson, but there wasn’t anything that could work for her to open an occasional market shop of "fresh produce, houseplants and selected products."

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Emily Dobmeier spotted an idea online for a converted pickup box to host her market business concept. Her dad bought her the pickup box, allowing her to start her market right on the land she already calls home. Photo taken on Sept. 26, 2021 at Thompson, North Dakota. Katie Pinke/ Agweek

Online she saw a converted pickup box idea for a market. This past winter, her dad surprised her with the pickup box to begin her business dream of opening a market, right on the land she already calls home.

“There’s a good sense of community in Thompson, and I just wanted something more,” Emily said.

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Garden-grown cherry tomatoes fill a table at Highway 15 Market on Sept. 26, 2021. Katie Pinke/ Agweek

She opened this past June, first every other weekend, then every weekend in August. Now, she's trying to keep open this fall as long as weather allows. Emily also decided to plan an indoor holiday market at the Thompson Community Center the Saturday before Thanksgiving, Nov. 20, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Emily said if everyone shows up that says they're going to, she will have 30 local vendors there.

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Emily Dobmeier and her parents raised garden produce for the debut of Highway 15 Market this summer and fall. Behind the table hides helper Levon Dobmeier, 6. Katie Pinke / Agweek

We attended the tenth Highway 15 market. It’s not simply a traditional farmers market of only produce. Emily and her parents, David and Sharon Bakke, grew garden produce this summer and combine their bounty to sell at the market. Additionally, Emily sources numerous local vendors for resale and consignment of items. I spotted local businesses I like to purchase from at the Highway 15 Market and loved the concept of adding their items to the market. She also uses an app to source other categories of products focusing primarily on small-batch items and women-owned businesses to add variety to her market offerings.

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Highway 15 Market features curated products from local vendors and online purchases owner Emily Dobmeier makes, focusing primarily on small-batch products and women-owned businesses. Katie Pinke / Agweek

The only drawback to a rural outdoor store and market? "The prairie wind," Emily said. In a drought year, they've only been rained out once in their first year of business.

As I visited with Emily and Kenny, Nathan and Anika found a few items to purchase, including sweatshirts for our daughters with “Home Girl” on them and a t-shirt for me. I wore my “Small Towner” t-shirt to a recent 4-H meeting. The coffee cup they chose for me says, “Courage is contagious,” as Anika handed it to me “because you have a lot of courage, Mom.” I swallowed hard; I’ve learned to always soak in compliments from tweens when they’re given. I now use the cup every morning at breakfast for our daughters to see.

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Emily Dobmeier sources numerous local vendors for resale and consignment of items at Highway 15 Market. Photo taken Sept. 26, 2021. Katie Pinke / Agweek

Emily and Kenny Dobmeier’s courage is contagious, I believe. Every small town and rural area needs community builders, those willing to step out in confidence to try a new idea and to encourage connection, business support and to expand on what a small-town offers. We must be open to new ideas in our small towns, support those trying a new business concept and find ways to attract and keep young families in our rural corners of America.

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From left, Emily and Kenny Dobmeier interact with a customer on Sept. 26, 2021, at Highway 15 Market, their outdoor occasional shop in the yard of their home on the edge of Thompson, North Dakota. Katie Pinke / Agweek

Emily and Kenny's cheerful welcome and small-market concept in their own backyard along Highway 15 brightened my fall and gave me a nudge to be a courageous small-towner again.

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To read more of Katie Pinke's The Pinke Post columns, click here.

Pinke is the publisher and general manager of Agweek. She can be reached at kpinke@agweek.com, or connect with her on Twitter @katpinke.

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