97. Missoula Urban Demonstration Project | Ellie Costello | Missoula, MT

There’s an organization down in Missoula, known as MUD, they’re really an amazing organization I dk if there are other orgs like this around the US, but if there are I think listeners are going to look for programs like this in their area.

The Missoula Urban Demonstration Project otherwise known as MUD was establish in 1987 to demonstrate that sustainable living in an urban setting is possible. Their feature service is a Tool Library where members can borrow over 2000 tools to help with home and garden projects. The also offer a variety of educational workshops that helps community members learn how to complete many domestic projects.

Established in 1987 the tool library includes “over 2,000 tools in our inventory, we have everything from hand and power tools for your lawn and garden to home repair and renovation tools, from auto repair and maintenance tools to tools that help with food preservation, sewing, and other domestic projects.”

One part of their definition for Sustainable Living I liked was: “the wellbeing of the natural world and the responsible use of natural resources.”

There are other programs with components that other programs offer. MUD started out as a demonstration in sustainable living house, there are others but I can’t think of any off the top of my head. In Missoula a similar organization UM FLAT – forum for living with appropriate tech

demonstration with sustainable living, takes a different form, for students particularly at the university there,

MUD has evolved from its inceptin in 1981 as the demonstration housing project. as of this summer we sold, we does our original houses that we owned.

JimGreenTool Donations

Now MUD‘s forte is a tool library kind of close to a building reuse center

MUD has eveolved a lot since it’s inception in 1981. Sold the housing operating their main program is the tool library . located next to a reuse building materials Home Resource,

tool library  where you can come to get tools to actually manipulate the resources you get form Home Resource so it’s a pretty nice partnership. We are working on some educational programs. We offer a slate of workshops though out the school in addition to what is going on from our tool library.


Tell us a little about yourself.

I’m not from Missoula. I’ve been in Montana, about 6 years now, but I hale from the DC area, I grew up in Virginia mostly. I came out here right after finishing undergrad.

As you know being in Montana for a long time. Are you from here?

Nope, I moved out here from NY in 1988.

It’s so beautiful out here, pretty enamored of the mountinas and the rivers. Started getting dirty working on trail crew and working on some sustainable farms in the Missoula area. After that, I ended up going to went to the grad school here in Missoula, EVST, and focused on the alternatives Working with the organic seed alliance, and doing some reseach for small scale seed companies as well as working with some seed cooperatives. I did that and finished that up this past winter, now I’m the Director for MUD and I’m also farming a small acreage about 1/2 acre for my self for  next season. I’m very excited area starting my own soup business. So growing food that will eventually become soup! So that’s a little bit about what’s happening in my life.

When I was in College in 1988 there was a cool little restaurant called Torrey’s Home cooking that served all the food on their farm, down in Stevensville. So that sounds like your idea also! Does MUD have community gardens too?


MUD does have a small urban garden that is located on our site, where we have 3 different different garden plots and a small orchard 5-6 trees. We do a lot of demonstrations of urban gardening, but where I’m farming is separate from that its an FARM? on a site called Tower Gardens they rent out larger size plots, to help incubate so instead of going to the community garden and getting a 25 foot plot you can get 1/2 acres or 1/4 acres or things like that.

Where is that in town or outside?

Just outside city limits.

On the north side or south side?

West of town. Head out past Reserve St, is kind of a big cut off. It is in definitely suburban in it’s setting, lots of house in that area, but slightly larger plots then you find in the city limits.

That’s a nice area, must be fun. 

Yes I’m planting a lot garlic right now!

Idk if listeners care, if they know where I am, Missoula is 4 hours south of me, I’m up by the Canadian border, you’re climate is just a little bit warmer, you’re days are just slightly longer, I think.

Tell me about your first gardening experience?

Well, my first gardening experiences were watching my mother split iris bulbs and mail half the iris bulb to her father in NY, so that was basically it as far as landscape gardening was going on. I didn’t have any interest in, maybe because it’s so frickin’ hot in VA, for some reason I remember not wanting to be digging in the dirt hating to put my hands into gloves. Now they are my favorite thing to be wearing coming because they protect you from everything and it’s like an old friends when you put your hand into an old glove.

which didn’t really have much to have much to do with food. I got into foods through a back entry way

worked with a  CSA as an undergrad

would aggravate food from several different farmers and sell a CSA based on the conglomeration of farms as opposed to one just farm providing it. So we were offering so individuals could get a variety of food. So that was my first experience seeing different small scale agriculture, as I drove a truck and set up produce market stand style, and really wanted to get to know more the farming part of it at that point.

Nice! I didn’t know there were CSA’s with multiple farmers! I love it more coperation!  Neva was just who is one of the Professors at the Environmental Studies Program at University of Montana. 

I have not enough good things to say about Neva!

I heard so many things form the students Neva brought who were just raving about her! I barely met her in passing on the last day! I’m thinking about getting my grad degree in EVST thorough that program.

I would encourage you to! I’m a recent grad from that program! I finished up Dec/Jan from this last winter. It’s a wonderful opportunity to have a community of people helping propel each other forward. I am so glad to hear you were at the AERO conference because I was just recently on the board of AERO, I termed out at that conference.  People are making connections there. That was one of the main goals.

So did I meet you there, were you there?

I was there! I was frequently yelling from tables and herding people! I organized the conference activities, but didn’t necessarily lead workshops.

I didn’t really know about AERO till I started the podcast, and had this guest on Laura Behenna who was there. and the power of blogging I learned from reading Jennifer’s blog. And Robin Kelso from the Good Seed Co in Whitefish.

Worked for Robin through AERO and through the organic seed alliance is the name of a non-profit we work on education and advocacy around organic seed issues

everything from projects partnering with plant breeders who cultivate new varieties

working on property technology for seeds, which is a big issue right now, having innappropriate technologies to protect seed usage, so a patent on a seed which isn’t an invention. There’s a lot of education that hosting the organic seed growers conference partenering with


promotional outlets garner support for the organic seed movement.

Tell us more about MUD.

We covered a little bit of what our main programs. Are

Just been a month as the director. Pretty new to the organization. In that month we created a new strategic plan for the next 5 years, towards growing our education and serving the Missoula community through doing well with what we already have.  For example with our tool library,

teach them about how to use tools. that can be an empowering place for individuals to come, instead of feeling a little bit daunting to approach. We have shipping containers as storage for the tool library

feel intimidated by all these tools along the wall, instead they have guidance there to show them how to use those things

what they can accomplish to do their own gardening at home

at home protects

thinking about how to live in small spaces and liven small spaces well.

we’er doing those things for the next five years.

I have a feeling heard of a tool library and how does that work?

It’s such a wonderful resource. Basically a tool library, it operates just like any other library

you become a member, some have fees associated with them, if they use gas, or we only have 2 cider presses in Oct and Nov are the most sought after and coveted tool. So we have a fee because they are going to get used a lot and need more maintenance.


You come sign up to be a membership that helps keep doors one on a sliding scaled based on income. You can use tools and borrow tools to your hearts content. Truck share associated with the tool library, there is a community truck you can use perhaps, 2 times a year where hauling something is the order of the day.

The idea of the tool library is to create shared resources

a screw power drill. or something.

this allows us to then not have to consume quite as much, because we are sharing those resources instead of  everybody has to own their individual drill. root tillers.

Most popular tools are the lawnmowers that people come rent. It’s a really accessible community resources.

It’s amazing to me! It’s super successful because obviously its working! People are borrowing things and returning them on time in shape etc.

If things in high demand, you can check out until the next library open day. Some things you can only check out until the next tool library check in time. Some things are more like you can take for a week. We have a lot of rakes so you can take a rake and not have to bring it back the next day so it depends on the tool!

I was looking

We owe a to of appreciation to our donors,

we have some really wonderful staff, Don our head tool librarian is an excellent fixer because he is our fixer of things. Can play with people’s old tool and make them functional.

We have a lot of support

How do you? Do you have fundraisers this year?

Well our tool donations are just when somebody has something to drop off for us, we’re happy to accept it!

We offer other programing

like most non-profit working on year end appeal right now.


We have a signature event on Earth Day in Caras Park!

Wait tell us about that!

Earth Day. Really excited about! We host a little earth day fair at Carras Park! Kick it off with an earth dya 5k to get people moving, people who want to share sustainability resources and have tables and offer their wares! and have a party! and thank everybody and go home!

It’s in the mud mission to celebrate, we do think that education demonstration and celebration of sustainability work. Earth day has educational components and demonstration able componetns but it’s about brining community together to celebrate what we do as a community.

It’s worthwhile good work!

That’s one of the things, I think if I wasn’t married, I would live in Missoula. If I was by myself it would be hard to live here alone. I like to sit in the Good Food Store and have all those people around they have a good vibe. Lots of people there who are good stewards of the earth care about the planet and common bond!


Building a Free Library

What other programs besides the tool library?

Workshop series., try to offer one a month, we had a couple that couldn’t happen because of weather

We offer these educational workshops around a lot of different skill sets.

an educational series, one day about this topic. Stat with an urban

tied together

instead of one day

urban gardening short course

planting seeds in our little greenhouse to putting food up at the end of the year, and learning how to put the garden to bed


all thorughout the season using that as a pilot to try to further the connected education space for individuals around specific topic areas, while we’re starting with urban gardening would like to move to energy efficiency in the home, lot of old homes,

doing things like that, doing pretty basic educational series, where we teach people about how to use tools and how to becoming competent doing so.

use our resources, to create whatever they would like to create and take on new tasks in their home. That’s the direction we’re going.

We also new educational programming

seven different curriculuum boxes teachers can take out.

How to deal with trash, reduce trash, topics like taht.

Are looking to rev that up as well as we move forward but we’re starting with the adults education component, letting that exist while the as these curriculum boxes,

PUtting a lot of

events the earth day celebration

host a garden party

mud mingles where we bring people together that are interested in issues in sustainability, have an opportunity to socialize and make connections

kind of what AERO does but on a smaller scale.

What’s Home Resource?

Antoher wonderful non-profit. They are a building resources.

We offer tools they offer affordable materials that have been salvaged from old buildings things donated by poeple, they have all kinds of building materials. Everything from old cabinets and doors, and Paint and bolts, and wood slabs. One thing they were advertising in their newsletter, was a propane stove

they have all kinds of goodies.

borrow some tools to make them into your perfect project.

We have a place called RE use, or Redo. Their stuff is for sale right 

It’s done on an affordable level because it is reduced, they attach prices that make it affordable

Our place is called the restore.

There are a lot of centers like that in different cities.

Maybe people can look and see if there is a store




We have a small urban garden

use that compost as our fertilizers

demonstrate different that what you can do at your own

topsy turvey bucket tomatoes, a hanging bucket of tomatoes and it takes up less space.

container gardening

water wise gardening use a drip system

on a timer

without as much time investment as people can think and we also have a native plants garden that is truly water wise

don’t water at all. Folks can see what ou can do with limited resources to make your space  beautiful

developing our educational series

last year we did some workshops where we built vertical gardening pallets you can put up against the side of your house to grow food

did everything from lasagna gardening and seed saving to garlic planting.

iMy step-daughter put up one of this pallets it looked real nice! Full of flowers.

Baiscally drill a hole at the bottom,

hanging the bucket up, doesn’t need a ton of water, not going to disapate

So it will grow down from that bucket instead of growing up

if you don’t have a garden plot and you just have a place where you can hang a plant insdie your home it would be pretty easy,

If you did a cherry tomato, it might be good for us to try, I was just telling someone the other day ours hardly ever get red on the plant. IT would be nice if you just brought them in to turn red! I’m glad we recorded this part!

It was super fun to talk with you. I’m sure we met at the AERO thing and I just didn’t connect.

WE have a website just like everybody does MUD Project.org you can also find us on Facebook. Pretty good updates, and we do send out newsletters to our followers

If your interested in knowing what is going on

you can follow us on twitter and instagram.  Twitter @MUDMissoula

instagram Mud_project. I would look for us online and on Facebook those are our most active.

About the author, Jackie Marie

I'm an artist and educator. I live at the "Organic Oasis" with my husband Mike where we practice earth friendly techniques in our garden nestled in the mountains of Montana.

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