When landowners Luci Brieger and Steve Elliott started farming in the Bitterroot in 1979, they knew right off the bat that they wanted to do as little harm on the land as possible to grow healthy, organic, produce to feed their community.

Nearly 40 years later, the certified-organic farmland that serves as Lifeline Produce can continue to produce locally grown food for years to come through their small-scale operation, thanks to conservation.

The farm’s newly conserved 78 acres spans over two properties – one along the Eastside Highway in Stevensville that serves as the farm’s main crop production area, and the farm’s headquarters located off McVey Road in Victor that includes a home, hoop house, green houses, and land used for crop production and rotational livestock grazing.

Lifeline Produce grows all their own hay and feed to support enough cattle and sheep to provide enough manure to make the compost that builds soil for crops. The farm grows potatoes, beets, carrots, parsnips, pumpkins, lettuce, cabbage, chard, zucchini, and onions, among other things. They also produce their own biodiesel fuel to operate farm vehicles, using waste cooking oil from Victor’s Hamilton House and the Mustard Seed Restaurant in Missoula. Most of their electricity is solar.

“This is our life’s work. Over the years we have been able to buy these 78 acres and rebuild healthy soils. We raised our three children here, and our family agreed we wanted this ground to be available for organic agriculture for generations to come,” says Luci. “We knew that a conservation easement would probably be a useful tool to make that happen.”

Both properties are in close proximity to other conservation easements completed by local families in partnership with the Bitter Root Land Trust, which will remain forever open and available for agriculture, wildlife and riparian habitat, as well as scenic views from highly traveled roads.

In addition to organic crop production, the farm also supports an apprenticeship program in which they have trained two farmers every year for many years.

“We need more farmers, and somebody needs to train them. We wanted future farmers to have the opportunity to operate this farm someday and knew that meant we’d need to permanently lower the land’s value by removing development rights through the conservation easement. Because if those farmers had to pay development prices, this land would certainly not stay in ag production. “ – Luci & Steve

Community members can purchase Lifeline Produce at the Good Food Store and Orange Street Food Farm in Missoula and Super One in Stevensville. The Western Montana Growers Co-Op also purchases and distributes Lifeline’s produce, in addition to goods offered by many other local growers, to grocery stores, restaurants, and institutions across Montana and into Northern Idaho and Eastern Washington.

Thank you to Luci and Steve and their family for your vision for conservation, and continuing to fill our community’s bellies with healthy, happy, Bitterroot-grown food!