The lean days of Lent arrived early this year for the Missoula Urban Demonstration Project (MUD), which made the difficult decision to cancel MUDdi Gras, the organization’s popular mid-winter festival and fundraiser, due to staff and time constraints, and financial limitations.
Still, the folks at MUD insist that the party’s cancellation is only a minor setback for MUD, and the Missoula nonprofit remains committed to its core mission of promoting simple, healthy and sustainable community living.
“MUDdi Gras became an institution almost immediately because it caught the passion of people in the middle of winter,” says MUD board of directors member Greg Price. “By December we kind of bottomed out as far as money goes.”
Since July, MUD has undergone significant changes, including a reorganization, a complete turnover of its staff and the hiring of its new executive director, Rachel Gooen.
Gooen says that one of her main goals is to concentrate on the strengths that made MUD so successful in the past, such as its gardening program, tool library and educational projects that teach people about sustainable living. By concentrating on food issues, she says, MUD can help educate the public about how their food choices affect their region, such as the risks posed by genetically modified organisms, how higher land prices affect farmers and how centralized food distribution increases fossil fuel consumption.
Ultimately, says Gooen, the idea is to get people to understand that their choices do matter.
“It’s very easy in the society that we live in to feel like you don’t make a difference,” says Gooen. “Why does my having a garden make a difference? Why does my buying organic make a difference? Why does my walking someplace rather than getting in a car make a difference?”
Aside from the cancellation of MUDdi Gras, MUD has also put several other projects on hold, notably, a major renovation of its offices and living quarters at 629 Phillips. When Gooen was hired, the board decided that she would not be required to live on-site, due to almost 20 years of deferred maintenance.
Despite the cancellation of MUDdi Gras, the folks at MUD insist that the group’s popular Garden Party and MUD Camp for children will be held this summer, and that MUDdi Gras will likely return next year once their finances improve.
“There is absolutely a commitment from the MUD board that MUD will continue to be a fun organization,” says board member Bob Oaks. “That’s part of community building.”