Food production has a long history on the Deschamps farm. Located south of Frenchtown in Grass Valley, it’s one of the oldest farmsteads in Montana, with foundations going back well over a century. There are stories of native Salish women digging edible bitterroots from the surrounding hills into the 1940s. Grass Valley was once considered the historic “bread basket” of Missoula County, providing grain and livestock to the surrounding communities of Frenchtown, Huson, Lolo, and Missoula. In 2008, Fred and Brett Deschamps inherited their 342-acre property from longtime friend Louis Kinney, who had put the property under a conservation easement with Five Valleys in 2006. Today, the farm’s long legacy endures.
The Deschamps property is home to a wide variety of landscapes—from cattail wetlands to wooded draws, and from lush hay fields to Glacial Lake Missoula clay hills dotted with sagebrush. Meandering LaValle Creek, with it’s many reedy sloughs, wanders across the whole of the place, providing water and habitat. The property sits smack-dab in the middle of the Clark Fork River-Grass Valley Important Bird Area, a mecca for dozens of bird species. The most stable, and largest population of long-eared owls in the US makes its wintering grounds here. Recently, Montana Audubon received funding for wetland restoration on the Deschamps property.
The long history of both agriculture and rich habitat are not coincidental. They have a common thread: uniquely rich soils. The Deschamps’ land is located in one of Missoula County’s Open Space Soil Cornerstones and nearly 75% of the Deschamps property is comprised of locally important soils. These fecund grounds grow lush hay crops and pasture the Deschamps’ cow herd. These quality soils have also been a key reason why the Deschamps’ farm has continued to evolve with the times.
For the past five years, the Deschamps have leased out two acres of their land to Hmong vegetable farmers who sell their produce at local farmers’ markets, bringing more locally grown produce into the homes of Missoula County residents. The Deschamps themselves are working to restore and improve the historic ranch through restoration of the original agricultural buildings, protection of LaValle Creek, and through improved irrigation techniques. Thanks to the continued dedication of Fred and Brett Deschamps, local farming and prime bird habitat continue to exist hand in hand.