Open Land for Local Food: Conserved Farm Comes Full Circle
73 years later farm returns to local food roots in partnership with Gallatin Valley Land Trust and grower
Fred Happel bought a 40 acre farm five miles from downtown Bozeman on Gooch Hill road in 1943 with money he saved from his Army stipend while serving in Japan during World War II. When Fred completed his service, he returned to his home and the new farm; upon his return he met Mae Stine and the rest is history. Fred and Mae were married in 1947 and began the arduous task of restoring and building a small farm. They had a large garden that filled Mae’s canning jars, sold eggs, raised fattened hogs, and always had a prized herd of Black Angus cattle on their farm. After experimenting with many different local food products, Fred and Mae settled into the idea of starting a local meat cutting shop. In 1961 they founded Happel’s Clean Cut Meats and based its success on the original sausage recipes that Fred had gleaned from his German relatives.
In 1997, their love of the land and the farming life led Fred and Mae to partner with the Gallatin Valley Land Trust (GVLT) to establish a conservation easement on their farm, along with two other farms at the junction of Gooch Hill and Huffine Lane. They couldn’t have known at the time that Bozeman city limits would grow to the eastern boundary of the farm but their vision for the land has ensured that the Happel Farm remains available to produce local food, while at the same time provides permanent open space on the entire privately owned land near Bozeman’s edge. Their vision still lives on. To this day you will find Lyle Happel (Fred and Mae’s son) still operating Happel’s Clean Cut Meats on the family farm in its original location; memories of Fred and Mae are cherished by many old timers in Bozeman (you might even find them in a photo or two on the wall at Eagles); Bozeman’s growth continues in all directions; and the Gallatin Valley Land Trust continues to partner with the family to ensure that their farm remains undeveloped and in agricultural production in perpetuity. GVLT has been working for 26 years to help protect some of the best soil in the state from development. In addition to protecting soil from development, we have begun a conversation with local food producers to help them locate land for diverse vegetable production. In our booming real estate market, it is hard for local growers to find land to purchase for their operation at a reasonable price, especially near town. Together, the challenges of local growers, Bozeman’s demand for local food, and GVLT’s role in promoting agricultural use of conserved land called for creative problem solving and partnership.
Several years ago, we asked Lyle and his brother Logan if they might be interested in leasing a portion of their farm to a farmer that would grow vegetables for local markets. We knew that they had the right ingredients for success; productive soil, good water rights, a history of local products, and a desire to keep the farm in production. When Dylan Strike at Strike Farms approached GVLT earlier this year looking for land he could lease, we reached back out to the Happel brothers to form a partnership. The Happels created a farm lease on six of their acres so that Dylan could expand his rapidly growing local food business. Dylan has plans to grow winter storage crops so that Bozeman can continue accessing local food throughout the year at the Winter Farmers Market.
The generosity and vision of two generations of Happels continue to put local food on our tables and celebrate our valley’s rich agricultural heritage. GVLT is proud to have had the opportunity to work with 100 local families to protect and preserve the community values that make this place our home. In Fred’s words: “Any job worth doing, is worth doing well.”
Happel’s Clean Cut Meats: www.happelsccm.com
Strike Farms: www.strikefarms.com