Montana's Best Topsoil: Creston black gold

A light spring rain has fallen on Tom Gorton's farm, turning the soil as black as coal.
 Barley has just been planted on about 40 acres, and nearby huge piles of another crop sit waiting for delivery: dirt.
 Gorton, born and raised on the Creston farm where he lives, skims the top few inches off the rolling farmland around him and sells the prime Creston soil to people around the Flathead Valley, for use in gardens, lawns, anywhere they want to improve their crops. The Creston bench where Gorton lives has been prime farmland for nearly a century. In fact, Gorton's grandfather farmed there, raising crops like wheat and barley. So when Gorton began farming the dirt, taking the top few inches off and selling it, critics said he was destroying the land. Gorton doesn't see it that way.
After he's peeled the top few inches off, Gorton plants the fields with a barley or lentil crop. The places where he's removing top soil are so deep he can come back in another three years and do it again, once the soil has reconditioned itself through farming. Even at his place, after skimming the topsoil off he harvested 136 bushels of lentils an acre, one of the best crops on record in the Flathead Valley, he said. He's also helping farmers keep their land, he says. Instead of farmers selling out their land for development, Gorton can come in, farm the dirt and help the landowners keep their places. "There are houses being bulit right in the agricultural land, and that's a shame," he says. "The alternative is that I purchase their soil and maybe they can hang on to their land without having to develop it."
Creston has one of the most fertile topsoils in the world, and Gorton's Creston Topsoil is one of a number of businesses in the east Flathead Valley that sell the prime dirt.
A former farmer himself, he says he helps "get the fields going back to where they're supposed to be. We're concerned about the agricultural fields ... we don't harm them, and we spend a lot of money to make sure that we don't harm them." He sells about 11,000 yards of topsoil a year  - about 800 dumptruck loads. Creston topsoil is rich in organic matter, and it can be mixed with peat moss, aged sawdust or sand, depending on what the gardener or homeowner wants.The soil in the Creston area is rich because of the way the glaciers scoured the Flathead Valley, Gorton says. The glaciers left the best soil on the east side of the valley, while the west valley got the rocks. That's why he finds himself making lots of trips there, the North Fork, Glacier Park and Flathead Lake lakeshore areas.

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