Martin Kidston

(Missoula Current) A year after securing an agreement allowing a local agriculture group to use the historic LeLonde Ranch, Missoula County last week closed the deal by signing a three-year lease that will provide the revenue needed to maintain and improve the property.

The $4,500 quarterly lease between the county and the Community Food and Agriculture Coalition will provide CFAC office space, storage and a home to conduct public outreach and education on the history and future of agriculture.

“This is an amazing thing to us,” said Bonnie Buckingham, the organization's executive director. “We're excited to be partnering with the county and making it a place where the pubic can come to enjoy and learn, not only about the history of agriculture, but the history of this place and the future as well.”

One of the ranch's first structures.
One of the ranch's first structures.
loading...

The LeLonde Ranch remains one of the few historic agricultural properties left standing in the Missoula Valley. It consists of several buildings that include a log cabin dating back to 1877, when Adam LeLonde was “proving up” his land.

The precise date of the main ranch house is unknown, though historians believe it was built around 1888 using materials from the Hollenbeck Brickyard, once located two miles south of the home.

The ranch and its remaining 7 acres are now bounded on all sides by the county’s Development Park and Interstate 90. While most of the land that once supported the ranch has been developed, the ranch itself remains intact, and it took the county several years to find a proper use for the property.

“It wasn't that many years ago we were poised to put up a for-sale sign on that parcel,” said Commissioner Dave Strohmaier. “We've come a long ways in dodging the bullet on some proposals that wouldn't work there. It took leadership in showing how we can adaptively reuse a piece of public property.”

Bonnie Buckingham
Bonnie Buckingham
loading...

Back in 2016, the county considered granting Freedom Gardens use of the property. The organization proposed planting as many as 150 fruit trees, building a greenhouse, a kitchen, and harvesting more than 14,000 pounds of food.

That agreement didn't pan out, however, and in 2018 the county approved a temporary rental agreement for a caretaker to tend to the property. The following year, it approved a special permit allowing use of the ranch for a cyclocross race.

Now, the Community Food and Agriculture Coalition will place its main office at the ranch and host public events focused on ag. The organization looks to grow a healthy local food community by preserving farmland, teaching new farmers and making food more accessible to more people.

“I see use and preservation going hand in hand. When they use something, they have justification for its existence beyond its historical merit,” said Commissioner Josh Slotnick. “This allowed us to come up with a financial stream by which we can use to make the necessary improvements to this (ranch) building so it doesn't fall squarely on the back of taxpayers.”

More From Missoula Current