We’re So Excited for Spring We Wet our Plants!

March 20th was the spring equinox, and even though it’s snowing today spring is certainly starting to make itself at home here at the UM FLAT. This past weekend the FLAT folks got together with some of our Spring 2015 interns and a couple of volunteers from the Missoula guerrilla gardening group, 1000 New Gardens, to keep some of our projects moving along with the season.

Resident and intern prepare compost for the hot box.

Resident and intern prepare compost for the hot box.

The focus of our first spring workday was to get some of our projects in good positions for some exciting projects that will culminate in April. David Lau, our resident garden/composting magic-man, worked with interns and FLATmates to prepare and construct two piles of compost in our brand new cinder block compost bins. While they worked away on putting together what will become the future soil of the FLAT garden, other FLATmates began deconstructing the old compost bins. “This process is just like composting” suggested mountain-poet-activist Nick Triolo. “We’re deconstructing, so we can build again. What a cycle. Perfect!”

Future FLAT soil in the making.

Future FLAT soil in the making.

Over the weekend, participants completed what seems to be another seasonal cycle. Though new projects are really excited for volunteers and FLAT residents, existing projects require upkeep too. Maintaining older projects is another really important element about living at a demonstration house that exhibits frequent changes in residents. Each year the chicken coop and run undergoes some wear and tear due to winter weather. The warm weekend offered a great opportunity to give the beaten down soil in the chicken run some maintenance while also repairing some damaged chicken wire and structural supports.   It’s starting to look really nice in the backyard, and we’re hoping folks come and check it out for our last Wild Mercy reading this Thursday at 7:00pm in the FLAT studio. Keep tuned in for our UM FLAT Workshop Series in April too, which will feature a few fun food-based demonstrations from folks with some impressive hands on knowledge.

New signs explaining resident projects.

New signs explain resident projects.

Breaking Down the FLAT Compost

Composting is a simple idea. Compost is organic matter that has been decomposed and recycled into fertilizer as a soil amendment. At a very simple level, it requires making a pile of wet organic matter (green waste) and then waiting for the materials to decay and break down into humus over the course of months and seasons.

Existing composting bins

         Existing Composting Bins

The UM FLAT has been steadily composting food waste, chicken straw and manure, and other organic inputs over the last handful of years. One of our residents is about to “break it down”, however, and take our compost and waste materials to a new level of efficiency and understanding. The purpose behind this soil-loving FLATmate’s project is to collect more data and develop a strategy for effectively using our food waste at the FLAT as a garden amendment. The project is underway already, and we’ve got a nice new composting spot next to our chicken run. Come to one of our events this spring and take a look!

New Cinder Block Compost Bins

    New Cinder Block Compost Bins

This project will require FLAT residents to closely monitor compost temperature during composition and to create a set of composting guidelines to more efficiently manage how we amend our garden using food waste.   Residents will take turns this spring managing our waste, turning our compost piles more regularly (three day intervals!), maintaining appropriate moisture levels, and using our neat data loggers to record temperatures. Once the temperature stops rising after turning, we’ll be prepared to discontinue turning our compost piles and let them sit to ferment and ripen.  There’s always a lot of growth happening at the UM FLAT, but this spring and summer we’re really focusing on replenishing our soil, garden, and home for the future.

Upcoming Events: Seed Swap and Film Series

1029176963This is your friendly neighborhood events update – here are a few things happening around Missoula in the area of food (do YOU eat food?), so mark your calendar and take advantage of some great local opportunities!

Seed Swap

Who: Open to everyone, hosted by Five Valleys Seed Library

– Where: Missoula Public Library, large meeting room

– When: Saturday, February 7 from 12 to 4 pm

– What: Bring seeds, get seeds… or just look around at all the cool seeds

Film Series

Brought to you by the Missoula Community Food Co-op: all movies showing at the Burns Street Bistro (1500 Burns St.) at 6:30 pm

Feb 25: The Real Dirt on Farmer John (trailer here)

March 25: Food Stamped (trailer here)

April 22: Symphony of the Soil (trailer here)

Apply Now to Live at the FLAT!

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Kara and David practice their “wanna join the FLAT, do ya??” looks at the annual winter retreat

That’s right, your life-long goal of living at the FLAT is one step closer to being realized! Every spring the FLAT reviews and then chooses students to fill the vacancies. It is open to ALL STUDENTS, undergraduate or graduate, from any department. This year we will have an unusually large number of spots opening up as many of us graduate or reach the end of the 2-year residency limit.

The 2015-16 new resident application went up on our website earlier today, giving applicants about a month to answer a handful of questions and return them to us by Monday, March 2. Applications can be downloaded here and sent to us at umflat@gmail.com. Any questions regarding the application can be sent to the same address.

We look forward to reading all of your thoughts and desires! The decision generally takes up to two weeks and includes an interview process for short-listed applicants.

Meet Our Lovely Ladies: Frida, Jeannette, Amelia, and Rosa

Have you met the lovely ladies of the FLAT yet? It’s hard to believe how much they’ve grown since we first brought them home from Clark Fork Organics in April. They’ve turned out to be well-behaved teenagers. Find out more about our stars (named after famous deceased women) by reading the following bios. We’ve now hung these bios up on the coop as well so next time you’re around take a look. Frida infojeannette infoAmelia inforosa info0103051625

So…what exactly do you guys do?

Recently at one of our sleepy-eyed Tuesday morning meetings, the FLAT crew was interviewed for a KBGA story on student housing by graduate student Nicky Ouelett. The story coveres the topic of themed housing and portrays what it is like living in one these more goal-oriented group living situations.

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Living at the FLAT, we often get the question “So…what exactly do you guys do?” It’s difficult to give a synopsis of everything that goes on though in a quick 30 second elevator speech. From the alternating monthly role duties of Chickens, Studio, Garden, Yard, and Web to the more demonstrative projects and community events, there is a lot going on all the time.

If you’re inspired by what you hear, look for the application to live at the FLAT in February. We’ll also be tabling in the UC early spring semester so come say hi and ask us any remaining questions you may have about what exactly we do at the FLAT.

(NOTE: you may have to be logged into gmail to listen to or download this linked version of the interview.)

Humble Abode or Glorified Creation?

This NY Times article, Exhausted by a House That Saves Energy: Was It Too Soon to Be Sustainable?, was floating around the FLAT this week featuring a retired couple who escaped to the woods of Vermont in order to build themselves this close to net-zero house. Instead of downsizing after retirement, this couple opted to build a 5,000 sq. foot house with the intention of it later accommodating their kids and grandkids so that the youngins could take care of them and continue the operations of the house. After reading the article I got to wondering, was it worth it to the couple to go through all this construction and labor just to maintain a house? They couldn’t leave for vacation unless a trained family member could tend to the house all day. It requires constant attention to ensure all mechanics are working and chores are being completed (ex. opening and shutting the 56 shades throughout the day). I bet you’re also wondering how much this fine beauty costs (including the garage, outbuildings, chicken coop, etc.)? A whooping $500,000-$600,000. That’s an investment for retirement.

Ok, so maybe I shouldn’t be as hard on them. They are trying to be a model for their community by demonstrating how various technologies and practices can lead to a  sustainable lifestyle. It’s just that I get a bit fussy when people say they’re living a more “sustainable” lifestyle, when in fact, they’re contributing more to the environmental footprint -in this case it’s the new construction, cutting of existing trees, and lack of small scale construction. But now I want to focus on some of the positive and really interesting things this couple included in their abode:

  • a compost-heated chicken coop in the winter
  • 71 photovoltaic panels
  • 8 solar thermal panels
  • insulation and tight walls
  • “fancy ceilings”
  • hydraulic elevator
  • swimming pool…(sorry, I couldn’t help the “…”)

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If you’ve been to the FLAT this year, you might have noticed some of the plans for our new abode. We don’t know where these plans came from or who took on this in-depth project, but we like it! Apparently so does Frenchie at UM Facilities Services. I don’t know about my fellow FLATmates, but I am perfectly happy with what we have now and am pleased to see all our hard work come to fruition around our small cozy house. I am proud to call this house with these fabulous people who live in it my home.