Earth Day Work Day and BBQ!

Earth Week was a busy time all across Missoula, and the UM FLAT celebrated with a volunteer work day and BBQ! With the theme of backyard renovation, we had a variety of projects including a new bike parking area, a brick patio for the cob oven and getting the garden ready for the growing season!

Here are some pictures of spring progress around the yard…..

The yarrow in the native plant garden is freshly weeded and prospering:IMG_0598

The new brick patio for the cob oven is looking sharp, ready for summer pizza-making:IMG_0590

The garden beds are now lined with re-used logs to keep away pesky grass:IMG_0597

The hot bed is already flourishing with mustard greens:IMG_0596

The spring interns installed several rain barrels and experimenting with soaker hose:IMG_0591

We have expanded and improved our bike parking with re-used wood from our neighbors:IMG_0593

Bike Parking at Near-Epidemic Levels


A Special Report from the Green Onion:

Missoula, Montana – Reports are surfacing of a now-chronic problem from the backyard of the FLAT, authorities said.

For the past several months, the FLAT, the University of Montana’s Sustainable Living Demonstration House, has seen a disproportionate amount of visitors for the popular and frequent events they offer the community each week.

“It’s just what we do,” says Dov Weinman, co-director and organizer of this Spring’s Workshop Series. “We connect dots. We’re dot-connectors.”

Each Spring, the FLAT offers a Workshop Series: weekly, hour-long tutorials, free to the public, to learn various skills—fermentation, paper-making, bike-maintenance, mushroom inoculation, hula-hooping, etc.

Sam Plotkin teaches a full studio on the joys of fermentation.

EVST Graduate Student and pickling fiend Sam Plotkin teaches a captive audience about the joys of fermentation. “Controlled rot,” Sam calls it.


The idea? Do it your dang self. The FLAT believes that everyone’s got something unique to give and teach the world, so why not provide a platform for them to share it. Local talent, local skill-share. The six residents believe that, if we stop relying so much on other people to feed us and fix us, then we empower ourselves to choose our own path, not one prescribed to us.

The FLAT is choosing its own path; so much that it’s causing a stir.

Recently, Garden Guru David Lau had to relocate the composting site to make room for additional bike parking. With more people coming to FLAT events and nowhere to park bikes, the situation had become dire. With the new bike rack, the FLAT can now accommodate eight to ten additional bikes. Progress.

Workshop #1: Mushroom inoculation brought up to 30 people.

Upwards of 30 people showed up for the first workshop, mushroom inoculation.

Even so, with the 2015 FLAT Workshop Series attracting a record crowd (Don’t miss the last workshop, Fire Cider, Thursday, April 30th at 7pm!) visitors are still perhaps uneducated on how to fully utilize the new bike rack (See photo #1.)

“I just get too excited and forget to rack up my bike when I get to the FLAT for an event,” one FLAT enthusiast confessed, giggling.

The true test will be this Friday, April 24th, 11am-8pm, at the FLAT Earth Week BBQ and Work Day. With innovative project work, free food, and live music planned, the situation might become too fun to manage.

We will be reporting on more updates regarding FLAT visitor bike rack usage as they arise.

FLAT resident Kara displays proper use of the new rack.

FLAT resident Kara displays proper use of the new rack.

Photo Essay: Wild Mercy 2015


There’s a lot to get excited about in Missoula during spring semester.

The weather gets steadily better, the days longer. Later in the semester we begin to see robins and mountain blue birds, buttercups and balsamroot.

You name it, the spring semester’s got it.

And yet with all this bounty, one of the most anticipated events around the F.L.A.T. actually comes in February and hangs on until March.

It’s called Wild Mercy.

Wild Mercy is the Environmental Reading Series sponsored by EVST and Camas Magazine. Every Thursday for two months, a pair of writers—both graduate and undergraduate—will read their latest work in front of an audience.

The fire rages, the tea steeps, and the crowd always leaves inspired.

This year was no different. Starting with Camas Magazine co-editors Nick Triolo and Emily Withnall, for seven weeks the F.L.A.T. studio held space for some of the best student environmental writing Missoula has to offer.

Take a look at the photo essay below for some of the highlights of the 2015 Wild Mercy. If you’d like a more in-depth account of the Wild Mercy tradition, take a look at the article, “Of Stories and Bonfire.”

And finally, let Terry Tempest Williams’ words tumble around in your heart, the very words that inspired the name of this place-based gathering “Wild Mercy:”

“The eyes of the future are looking back at us and they are praying for us to see beyond our own time. They are kneeling with hands clasped that we might act with restraint, that we might leave room for the life that is destined to come. To protect what is wild is to protect what is gentle. Perhaps the wilderness we fear is the pause between our own heartbeats, the silent space that says we live only by grace. Wilderness lives by this same grace. Wild mercy is in our hands.”



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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)