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About Silver Star, Montana
Silver Star is located in southwestern Montana along the Jefferson River on the Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail. Lewis & Clark passed through Silver Star in early August 1805 in their search for a water route to the Pacific. On August fourth William Clark and the main party of men with the canoes camped just across the river from present day Silver Star, while Meriweather Lewis was scouting the route ahead on foot. Read more about Lewis and Clark on the Jefferson River.
Silver Star is the third oldest town in Montana, a story which began in 1866 when a prospector named Greene Campbell discovered gold on the side of a hill about 1 1/2 miles west of the present town site. He filed a mining claim under his name, and the "Greene Campbell" became No. 1 in the book of Montana patent records. Read more about Silver Star History.
Today Silver Star is a quiet little town of at least 30 people, probably more like 60-- if you include the outlying "suburbs" and ranches. Tom & Renee Elpel operate their internet bookstore through Granny's Country Store, where they also run the post office and keep a handful of groceries available for the locals. Other Main Street businesses in Silver Star include an antique and clock shop and a taxidermy studio.
Silver Star is rich in local personalities, several of which have been profiled in the Three Rivers Edition of the Montana Standard, including:
Lloyds Harkin's Steam Engine | Lloyd's Steam Tractor | Bill Roper | Frank Fox | Hal & Beth Morgan
SILVER STAR - Area farmers Beth and Hal Morgan agree that the organic food industry is growing faster than their tomatoes.
Silver Star couple taps into trend, hot springs
Story and photos by Paula J. McGarvey of The Montana Standard. 11/25/2006
The Morgans moved to Silver Star from Columbus in 1993 and purchased Silver Star Hot Springs. When the couple found the liability insurance to run the existing pool and bar to be too high, they opted for a different way to reap a profit from the natural hot water bubbling from the ground below.
Hal Morgan inspects tomatoes in his greenhouse in Silver Star recently. Hal and his wife Beth own the organic greenhouse. Photo by Lisa Kunkel / The Montana Standard.
"We decided to put in a greenhouse and raise tomatoes," Hal said.
The 30-foot by 120-foot greenhouse they built on site is heated with water from the hot springs, which is piped in and around the 650 to 1,000 plants typically growing inside. And the ambient temperature is downright balmy.
"At this time of the year it averages between 65 and 70 degrees," said Beth, who added that every one of the plants inside is being grown organically. And according to the Morgans, business is good.
"There's a pretty big demand. I think it's going to continue to grow. People just don't want the chemicals in their bodies," Hal said.
Locally, the Morgans' clients include Dancing Rainbow Natural Grocery in Butte, the Bozeman Food Co-op and the Continental Divide restaurant in Ennis. Bozeman's Plonk restaurant has even named their Silver Star Tomato Salad after the organic farmers' produce, boasted Beth. The Morgans also supply tomatoes to local hunting and fishing lodges in the area that cater to upscale clientele.
Beth said they have a big enough customer base to expand their business, but wasn't sure if they were ready to add a second greenhouse. Raising tomatoes is labor intensive. To keep plants productive, they have to be kept from getting bushy, said Hal.
"The top of the plant is where the production is," said Beth.
"We're pruning almost daily," said Hal.
And it's not just the pruning that requires daily attention. It's the harvesting. It's more than the certified organic label that makes the Silver Star tomatoes so desirable. It's that unmistakable vine-ripened flavor.
"Most tomatoes are picked green and then allowed to ripen. The ones in the market have been gassed on their way there," said Beth, referring to the food industry practice of using ethylene gas to hasten the ripening of fruits and vegetables. The tomatoes growing at the Silver Star Hot Springs aren't picked until they are fully ripened and at the peak of flavor, said Hal.
As for the price, Beth said that as a rule, organic fruits and vegetables are typically higher than traditionally grown produce. Morgan explained that growing organic is more expensive and more labor intensive.
In lieu of chemicals, Morgan uses beneficial insects such as ladybugs, to control pests, like aphids. Using only beneficial insects to control pests has a downside. Morgan said that five years ago, her pesticide-free crop of tomatoes was wiped out by an infestation of white flies.
The Morgans said they've learned a lot about the business through trial and error and don't plan on leaving the market for organic produce any time soon. They have expanded their organic produce line to include lettuce, cucumbers, peppers, Swiss chard, green beans and cherry tomatoes.
"I love growing things. It's so rewarding," said Beth.
And, if the demand for organic produce continues to rise, the Morgans will also be reaping rewards financially.
For more information about the organic produce grown at Silver Star Hot Springs, call 287-9189.
Used with permission of the Montana Standard.