Hear the story of Timeless and the Lentil Underground in an interview by Lynne Rosseto Kasper, The Splendid Table, with author Liz Carlisle.
The Early Years – 1987 to 1993
Timeless was given birth in 1987 when four organic farmers from central Montana – Bud Barta, Jim Barngrover, Tom Hastings, and David Oien – came together to grow a self-reseeding leguminous cover crop called George Black Medic, which had been developed at Montana State University by Dr. Jim Sims, and named for his father.
The dream was to introduce this new crop to farmers in the Northern Great Plains as an alternative to cultivated fallow fields and thereby reduce erosion, build organic matter, save soil moisture, and provide natural nitrogen fertilizer for following crops. We were going to change agriculture on millions of dryland acres!
The reality was that while the medic cropping system had decades of success in Australia and showed great promise both in research trials and the field, it was too far “out of the box” for most farmers, who were accustomed to buying synthetic fertilizer, suspicious of any crop that reseeded itself, and dependent on federal farm subsidies, which penalized farmers for growing cover crops on fallow ground. Black Medic was a great idea, but it turned out not to be a viable business for the “four guys enterprise.”
Undaunted, the Timeless boys, who were among the first organic farmers in Montana, remained committed to crop rotations, natural fertilizer, and alternative agriculture. Knowing that they and other organic farmers needed viable cropping and market alternatives, they turned their focus to “pulse crops,” edible annual legumes like peas and lentils. Coincidentally, the natural food industry was growing steadily by the early 1990s, and with it the demand for organic grains and seeds of all kinds.
Friends, Family, and Timeless Seeds, Inc. – 1994 to 2006
Since the beginning, we had operated our seed cleaning machines and “warehouse” from various outbuildings on David’s farm, including an equipment shed, an abandoned chicken house, and the garage. The office had moved from David’s living room to a greenhouse potting shed. But by 1994, we were out of space and needed bigger cleaning equipment. An abandoned elevator was available in nearby Conrad, but we were small farmers, so needed money to make the move. The local banks had only two questions: “What’s a lentil?” and “What’s organic food?” And only one response: “No, thanks!”
To the rescue came a dozen friends and family – some farmers, some friends of farmers – who each offered to invest in a future of healthful food, the land, and family farms. They made the move to Conrad possible. Within a few years, Timeless Seeds, Inc. became known nationwide and beyond as the source for premium quality and unique selection of organic specialty grains – like our trademarked Black Beluga Lentils®, which we introduced to the natural food industry in 1994.
More recently, we added our Harvest Gold Lentils, as well as our heirloom Black Kabuli Chickpeas™ and Purple Prairie Barley®. In 2001, we created our Timeless Natural Food retail line of premium quality lentils, peas, chickpeas, and heirloom grain.
Central and Eastern Montana consists of dozens of small rural communities, to a large extent populated by third and fourth generation families tracing their American century-old roots to homesteading grandparents from central and northern Europe. That’s how it is with the Timeless family, so our commitment to farming and our communities runs true and deep.
A Timeless Future – 2007 and Beyond
Now in our third decade, we remain committed to sustainable agriculture, good health, and the local community. With the help of Stranie Ventures, LLC, a Montana-based green investment fund, we upgraded our facilities again with the purchase of a seed processing facility in the small town of Ulm, Montana.
This move greatly expanded our production capacities and capabilities, supporting the expansion of new markets and sustainable farming practices for family farmers throughout Montana and the region.
The facilities also allow us to informally and formally partner with other compatible Montana sustainable agriculture businesses. Timeless is proud to be the home for Eighth Wonder – an heirloom rice business created by Montana native and former Peace Corp volunteer Mary Hensley to support a cooperative of more than 200 indigenous farmers who farm the incredibly beautiful, and environmentally-sensitive, terraces in the Philippines.
Beyond our production capabilities, at Timeless we are implementing our sustainability strategy which clearly identifies ways we can reduce our environmental footprint on the planet. Internally, we have a policy for reusing and recycling cardboard, plastic, wood, and metal.
Additionally, we provide a safe and fun workplace, offer employee and producer ownership, mentor other small environmentally-conscious businesses, and promote sustainable agriculture education for both children and adults.
We look forward to Timeless being a model business by providing ever more opportunities for sustainable farming, developing and marketing unique, nutritious food products, and being responsible citizens to the planet.