Of Stories and Bonfire: The 2014 Wild Mercy Reading Series


(Written by: Nick Triolo, first-year graduate student and FLAT house member.)

When the world frays at the edges, we must tell our stories. When things crumble, we must sit closer—closer to the fire, closer to each other. And we must tell stories, of all types. Stories of loss. Stories of gain. Stories of being confused in a confusing world. Through confusions expressed, we discover clarity, a little clearing in the chaos. Through both telling stories and listening to them, we begin to trace some common, umbilical attachment that binds us all together. To be drawn into a story is to follow this thread of another and realize that, in some strange way, it’s also our own.

Since 2003, the Wild Mercy Reading Series, sponsored by the EVST Department, Camas Magazine and UM FLAT, has highlighted some of the finest writers and student voices in Missoula’s burgeoning environmental writing scene. Over the past few years, the UM FLAT has hosted these readings in our studio. For eight consecutive weeks this spring, two writers got up in front of a crowd of 30-60 people to read their work—stories, poetry, and music.

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It’s Not Murder If You Kill-a-Watt

One of our dark haired, witty, and charmingly brilliant residents here at the FLAT has been crunching the numbers on our home’s solar output. Though suspected of being member to an underground bagpipe band, our FLATmate has come through to make sense of tricky spreadsheets and kilo-loads of data.

Since the James E. Todd building on the University of Montana campus uploads daily power generation averages (the FLAT used to do this before the wireless router was moved to the studio), we used Todd building daily data and applied it to our own array to get an estimate of what our daily average is.

Spring 2011 to March 21st, 2014 average daily estimation of the FLAT solar array using Todd building solar array data for base estimates.

Spring 2011 to March 21st, 2014 average daily generation of the FLAT solar array using Todd building solar array data for base estimates.

As of March 21, 2014, we had generated 8729 kWh (kilowatt-hours) of electricity.Using assumptions of Northwestern Energy’s power production mix (how much of NWE power is from coal, gas, hydro, etc.), we then figured that, to date, we had saved about 5.4 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2-e) by using solar power rather than purchasing power.  Just trying to brighten your day with our solar array!

FLATmates storm the CASL

University of Oregon's CASL

                                             University of Oregon’s CASL

This spring break a couple UM FLAT residents left on an adventure for lush, green conditions in Oregon’s beautiful Willamette Valley. At Eugene’s University of Oregon, those two FLATmates encountered a handful of empowered and sustainability-minded students. The University of Oregon’s Center for the Advancement of Sustainable Living (CASL), is a house that strives to inspire sustainable living practices through demonstration and experiental learning.

The UM FLAT’s founder made a connection with CASL years ago and even used CASL as a model for how a sustainable demonstration house could function. This spring, FLAT residents reconnected with these Oregon demonstrators while touring their project during one of CASL’s weekly workdays. The CASL project, though inspired by similar ideas as the UM FLAT, has its own unique approach to experiental learning.

Getting the CASL tour

                                                        Getting the CASL tour

The University of Oregon offers a handful of classes through its architecture program to allow students to fulfill an advanced architecture elective.   Students, through hands-on work at CASL, research and learn about LEED design and passive-house building techniques. Eventually, three directors will move into CASL and lead tours, maintain the grounds, and provide demonstrations of sustainable living.

Acknowledging places like CASL and exchanging lessons and information with University of Oregon students is an exciting prospect for FLAT residents. Keeping an open dialogue with entities with similar aspirations allow us to expand and improve on our projects while also sharing our own ideas and experiences. Cheers to sustainable demonstration house camaraderie!

Cheep cheep! (A chicken update.)


This past Sunday, some of the FLATmates drove out to Clark Fork Organics, where our new chicks are being raised. It’s pretty normal for chicks to suddenly die in the first few weeks, but all ten of ours are still alive and well!




Well, all except for one. Apparently she’s got some digestive issues…baby chick diarrhea, while it sounds like it might be cute, is still pretty gross. (Poopy chicken not pictured here.) Don’t worry, there’s a good chance that her condition will improve.




We were excited to learn that we should be able to move the chicks to their home at the FLAT in a few weeks…just in time for our Earth Day BBQ on April 25th! (Stay tuned, more details to come!) They won’t lay eggs until later in the summer or early fall, but it will be good for them to get used to being held by us.




After checking out the chicks, Josh Slotnick (on the right) gave us a tour of the farm. His wife Kim, who runs the farm, planted onions last season in the field next to us in this photo.




In addition to keeping the farm dog amused, we helped Josh wrangle a couple dozen of the grown chickens from a holding pen into their spring coop and run. We wish there were photos to document that event. Let’s just say there were feathers everywhere, and lots of squawking – but the chickens were happy once they started pecking around their new home.

(Photo credit: Nick Triolo)

Ask the FLATmates: What’s your one-word vision statement?

At the beginning of each semester, the FLAT gathers its members to share a meal, regroup, share ideas, and get stoked for the weeks ahead. This January, the FLATmates were asked an important question: If you had to choose one word to describe your vision and goals for this semester, what would it be?

Now that we’re nearly halfway through the semester, let’s take a look at their words, paired with their latest glamour shots:






Heather – LEGACY

Every Drop Matters: Crash-Course on Water Conservation


“To put your hands in a river is to feel the chords that bind the earth together.” - Barry Lopez

We residents of the UM FLAT care. We care about our place. We care about our chickens, our garden, our cob oven, our solar panels. We care about our studio and all of the tenacious student and community groups meeting there each week.

We just care a lot…about a lot.


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Something to Brood About

Buff Orpington chicks

Buff Orpington chicks

As some of you may know, the passing of Chairman Mao (one of our beautiful hens) at the end of January reduced our flock to one stoic chicken (the mysterious Black Magic Woman).  While her health and happiness are still a top concern, our focus turns to the future of our backyard chicken demonstration.  With spring looming, our efforts to extend our chicken run and renovate the coop (to create a more suitable space for a fresh flock) become priorities.

Today Kate and Dov walked through the doors of Murdoch’s Ranch and Home Supply with goals of purchasing two or three different breeds of laying hens.  We had checked ahead of time to see when they were getting their next chick delivery because we wanted to purchase our chicks early enough to make sure we could get the breeds we wanted.  In city limits, backyard chicken flocks are limited to six hens, and our intent was to purchase 10 chicks to allow for inevitable early mortalities.

Chicken breeds have different laying characteristics, temperaments, and hardiness in various climates.  Ideally, our chickens will be strong layers, friendly and docile, and hardy in cold winters.  Our 10-bird lineup ended up including four New Hampshire Reds, three Buff Orpingtons, and three Black Cochins.

Black Cochin chicks

Black Cochin chicks

Clark Fork Organics owner Kim Murchison has been kind enough to help us in brooding our chicks.  Brooding chicks requires the appropriate setup, and as she was already brooding her own chicks this March she offered to house our little flock as well.  While brooding your own flock can definitely be accomplished in an urban setting, our schedules as students, teacher’s assistants, naturalists, artists, musicians, burrito rollers, cyclists and ultrarunners limited our confidence in brooding our chicks with the kind of care we felt was necessary. We’re very appreciative of Kim’s contribution to our new, feathered FLATmates.

Smaller brooding setup

Smaller brooding setup

If you want to brood your own small backyard flock, one of the cheapest methods is to use a large 110-quart plastic storage container as their first home.  Suspend a 65-100 watt bulb directly on top of a screen enclosing the top of the tub to keep them warm.  Information regarding specific watering and feeding methods are readily available. At the FLAT, Storey’s Guide to Raising Poultry has been a reliable and comprehensive resource to those of us that are new to chicken caretaking.

Our decision to purchase day old chicks means that we won’t be receiving eggs for another 20 to 24 weeks.  Though it means we’re giving up current egg production, it was very important to us to take a long term and intentional approach to this new flock. Purchasing our own flock as day-old chicks allows us to know their age and specific breed, and gives us the opportunity along with the initial help from Kim to experience the growing stages of our flock and encourage their friendly temperaments.

We’re excited to have some fresh faces around later this spring, and hopefully you can stop by for one of our events to meet our new flock of Gallus gallus domesticus’!