Bread in the oven and friends next door

Wednesday, March 28, 2012 | 8:31 p.m. CDT; updated 9:08 a.m. CDT, Monday, May 7, 2012

*CORRECTION: Amanda Weyerich is one of the friends who was with Jessica Long at Rocheport General Store. An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated her first name.

ROCHEPORT — Rocheport is the kind of town that comes as a surprise (and a bit of a wonder) in the hustle and bustle of the technology age. With a population of just 200, it is tucked along the Missouri River about 10 miles west of Columbia, but its sprawling green hills and narrow streets make the town feel further away, and older.

Rocheport has all of two restaurants and has become a quaint and cozy haven for a small band of antique dealers and artisans. It attracts a lot of young day-trippers from Columbia and the region, but with no local school and limited employment, most young folks are drawn to Columbia.

I visited Rocheport in February to talk to an exception: Jessica Long, 26, who works at the Rocheport General Store and bought a bread baking company, Annie’s Breads, a year ago.

I drove past the Rocheport General Store twice before realizing I was looking for a storefront a bit smaller than I expected. When I arrived, Long had two friends with her: Jesse LaPuma, 24, an artist and coworker, and Amanda* Weyerich, 28, a mother of three who works as a surgical technician one day a week while being a homemaker (for now) the rest of the time.

Since Long and LaPuma were working at the General Store as we talked, my interview became more like a serendipitous conversation in which I'd talk to whoever had a moment free. The group as a whole brought up themes of how technology affects communication, the media's influence on the American Dream and the sense of community they each wanted to see in their own dreams.

The three each found their way to Rocheport separately, but purposefully. They all valued the sense of community Rocheport has to offer. Long said she loves being able to see the postmaster next door and the man across the street who toils in his garage every morning. Rocheport highlights the little things in life, a slow pace that allows residents to admire their surroundings and build intimate relationships.

I wonder about this special sense of community, and whether more people have found reason to move to smaller towns in recent years. Does the big city still hold the glamor and excitement it used to? Or are younger people willing to step off that track and instead build a slower life of attention and connection?

This story is part of the American Next, a special project exploring the hopes, fears and changing expectations of Missouri's next generation in challenging times.

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