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Sustainable Missoula: Growing a food-secure community

As I watched this winter’s snow melt, I plotted my backyard garden with the same fervor that I planned my own wedding. After years of renting, I was soon to be a first-time member of the home-gardening club, and I was ready.

After the maps were drafted and the spreadsheets complete, it was time to get my hands on some seeds. And some seed-starting trays. And grow lights. Just like my wedding, I was dismayed as the costs began piling up – not just for trays and lights, but for seed-starting soil, lumber for raised beds, soil to fill them, posts and wire for deer fencing…me oh my.

Even after purchasing most of the building and fencing materials secondhand, it still added up to a pretty penny. I am lucky to be able to afford these items, but that is not the case for everyone. The financial barrier to gardening exacerbates Missoula’s already high poverty rate and the lack of food security faced by many.

According to the Montana Food Bank Network, “Approximately 1 in 10 Montanans struggle with hunger, and nearly 37,000 children live in food insecure homes” – numbers that have surely increased during the pandemic.

When equipped with the materials and know-how to successfully maintain home gardens, research shows that the benefits extend far beyond reducing hunger. A 2013 study published in Agriculture & Food Security found that, “benefits of home gardens include enhancing food and nutritional security … improving family health and human capacity, empowering women, promoting social justice and equity, and preserving indigenous knowledge and culture.”

Thankfully, Missoula is home to many organizations working to empower our community with access to gardening skills and equipment. Garden City Harvest’s network of community gardens connects Missoulians to a garden plot complete with tools, water, and educational resources.

The new mutual aid project Seedlings for Solidarity aims to reduce food-insecurity by distributing free home-garden kits to food-insecure community members. The Missoula Urban Demonstration Project (MUD) hosts a variety of hands-on workshops and is home to a tool library where members can borrow shared tools for gardening and much more.

Earth Day is April 22, and in the spirit of celebrating our planet and community, MUD is hosting several upcoming events to help increase food security right here in Missoula:

  • Saturday, April 17: Join MUD for a Little Free Pantry Workshop to build your own little free pantry out of repurposed materials – no previous building experience necessary! Little free pantries are a great way to make meaningful changes from the bottom up by increasing mutual aid and equitable access to food in your own neighborhood.
  • Saturday, April 24: Volunteer to build planter boxes for food-insecure community members with Seedlings for Solidarity! No previous building experience required. Sign up for a morning or afternoon volunteer shift here.
  • Sunday, May 2: Get a better understanding of the science behind your garden’s soil at MUD’s Soil Health Workshop. Workshop instructor Mark Vander Meer will teach you how to characterize your soil with simple techniques anyone can do with practice.

My countertops are now brimming with the soft, bright leaves of young peppers, eggplant, tomatoes, and kale. Soon it will be time to transfer them to their sunny outdoor abode. I’ll undoubtedly stumble many times along this new-home-gardener path, and face unforeseen expenses (ahem, irrigation?). I’ll know where to turn for help along the way.

Jane McGuire is the Communications Coordinator at Missoula Urban Demonstration Project (MUD). This Sustainable Missoula column is brought to you – via the Missoula Current – every week by Climate Smart Missoula and Home ReSource.

Sustainability Happenings

As COVID-19 has altered many community events, some have moved on-line or found creative outlets. Here we offer ideas about sustainable ways to stay involved in our community. If you like these offerings, consider signing up for Climate Smart’s eNewsletter here. And sign up for Home ReSource’s eNews via their homepage here.

Lots of events and ideas to celebrate earth day, week and month – check them out!

April 1-June 16. Spring Shift. Gear up for a sustainable season by making sustainability part of your everyday routine. Mountain Line is hosting events and challenges (with prizes) throughout the spring.

April 17, 9:30am-5pm. Run for the Trees. Celebrate Missoula’s urban forest with Run Wild Missoula and Missoula Parks & Recreation at the 29th annual Run for the Trees on Saturday, April 17, 2021! This year, there will be an in-person 10K option and a virtual 5K option.

April 17, 12-3pm. Little Free Pantry Workshop with MUD and Home ReSource. This workshop will cover the impact of little free pantries in our community, give time for participants to shop for materials, and then participants will build the pantries together at the MUD site. No prior building experience is needed but come prepared with creativity to design your own little free pantry. $20 for MUD members, $40 for non-members.

April 17-22. Clark Fork River Cleanup. Clark Fork Coalition is hosting a DIY, multi-day cleanup featuring LOTS of community connection online! Register HERE.

April 17-24. 30 x 30 Nature Earth Care Week. Join the Sierra Club MT Chapter in caring for urban, semi-urban, and wild places near where we live as part of Earth Day week. Sign up to join the week of nature care and choose the best day and time for you to get out and clean up an area on your own or with your circle of contacts.

April 17-May 15. International Wildlife Film Festival. This 44-year-old festival is a beloved Springtime tradition in Missoula celebrating wildlife films and excellent storytelling. The 2021 festival will include an online catalog powered by Eventive where our 65 selections will be available online and often followed by a prerecorded post-screening conversation. The hybrid festival also will host outdoor screenings at the Roxy Garden on Thursdays & Friday evenings and a Night with IWFF at Ogren Park.

April 19, 6:30-8pm. Climate Café. Families for a Livable Climate is hosting a virtual Climate Café – a facilitated time to connect and talk about our feelings about the climate crisis and injustices in the company of engaged, supportive others. Register HERE.

April 20-May 9. Our Other Mother. In honor of Mother’s Day, join Families for a Livable Climate and Climate Smart to create a piece of art or a message (illustration, poem, story, photo or song) that shows our love for moms and #OurOtherMother – planet earth.

April 22-May 15. Gnomefest. Back to the Mother Kombucha is hosting Gnomefest, a scavenger hunt and litter pick-up initiative. From April 22 to May 15, scour Missoula’s parks and trails (and pick up litter as you go!) for handmade gnome figurines. If you’re lucky, you’ll find a “prize gnome” that can be exchanged for a prize at Back to the Mother’s booth at the Clark Fork Market!

April 23, 12 p.m. Honeybee hive installation. Two more colonies of honeybees will soon call MUD home! You’re invited to observe their installation into their hives on Friday, April 23, at noon at MUD. One colony will be going into our new top bar hive and the other will be going into a Langstroth hive. Head tool librarian Christian Russel will be available for Q&A after the installation is complete. Contact MUD with questions & for more details.

April 24, 9am-4pm. Earth Day Garden Planter Build. Seedlings for Solidarity and MUD are teaming up to ensure that community members who need better access to fresh food are equipped with the skills and materials to grow their own. During this garden planter volunteer build day, volunteers will have the opportunity to help build a variety of planter types that will then be distributed to food-insecure individuals throughout Missoula. No previous building experience necessary! Volunteers must sign up for a morning or afternoon volunteer shift HERE.

April 28, 12pm. Beyond Recycling: Making Zero Waste Work Session #2. This virtual panel discussion, hosted by Climate Smart Glacier Country, will take a look at repurposing food and other organic, green “waste” and help you learn about what it takes to engage your city or town about composting. Register here.

Through April 22. Thursdays, 7pm. Seeking Sustainability Lecture Series. In 2020, this lecture series celebrated 50 years of Earth Day by focusing on Missoula’s sustainability efforts & featuring 60 speakers. In 2021 many of those speakers will return to give updates on how their programs have adapted to the crises we face. Check out this year’s schedule and access the event link HERE. 2020 recordings are available HERE.

Through April. Montana Legislature is in session. Get the awesome “How to be Involved Guide” from Montana Free Press. To follow efforts for clean energy, climate, conservation and sustainability, consider connecting with (and getting the low down and action alerts from):

Through April. Missoula Valley Winter Market. Located in the Southgate Mall (in former Lucky’s Market). Market hours: Saturdays, 9am-2pm through April 17.

Through June 19 (dates added periodically). Virtual Fixit Clinics. Want to try fixing from home? Present your broken item to a global team of expert community repairers and get suggestions for things to try. After all items are presented, participants move to Zoom breakout rooms to implement the suggestions and, hopefully, fix the items.

Find more local activities and events at Missoulaevents.net and on Montana Environmental Information Center’s Conservation Calendar. And you too can help organize events – here’s the 2021 Calendar of Environmental Awareness Days – month by month break down of world day campaigns.