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Pashon Murray, Founder of Detroit Dirt in Southwest Detroit

Founded in 2011, Detroit Dirt is changing metro Detroit's definition of 'waste' by turning food by-products from local eateries into a reusable resource

Content brought to you by Ford Motor Company Fund

Pashon Murray always liked to get her hands dirty.

Growing up on Michigan's west side, the Detroit Dirt founder says farming and agriculture were always a part of her life. But the creative seeds to start a recycling-focused compost company grew from watching her father run a waste removal service.

"He had contracts in Grand Rapids for snowplowing and waste removal, and he started doing some recycling and hauling for hospitals," she remembers. "I hopped on and off of those trucks with him going to the landfills on the weekend."

Today, Murray aims to help reduce landfill dumping through Detroit Dirt's production of compost, using food scraps taken from local eateries combined with herbivore manure from the Detroit Zoo.

"I just wanted to prove that we could create this closed-loop system and provide resources for other urban farmers—or anybody who wanted a soil-based nutrient compost for their garden," she says.

On Detroit Dirt's two-acre dumpsite in Southwest Detroit, mounds of compost mixture are organically processed with worms and other naturally occurring insects. The process is a step toward creating an organic sustainability model for turning waste into energy, says Murray.

"When I moved back to Grand Rapids in 2003, I was invited to a few of the Green Building Council meetings and they were investing heavily in sustainability," she explains. "It was about building more efficiently. And that really was the pinnacle point where I thought, 'This is the future. People are going to be focused on energy and building buildings that are more efficient.' And that opened up my eyes."

Launching Detroit Dirt in 2011, Murray says her mission from the start has been to show how corporations can save money and help their surrounding communities by recycling their food waste.

"Instead of sending this waste to the landfill, I get them to see that I could reduce the cost for them in their triple bottom lines in giving me a material that I could repurpose and reuse. Within that system, they would now start diverting their waste, but yet save money, and also keeping it within the community," she says, adding that recycling food waste helps the city's carbon footprint and economy. "We save money. And we get to keep the resources right here and redistribute them amongst each other."

Detroit Dirt sells its compost for about $25-$35 per yard and is in the early stages of packaging its compost for purchase at local retailers. The ultimate goal, says Murray, is to create a model that can be followed anywhere.

"This is so much bigger than me. We are creating these campaigns around education and awareness of the movement because that's what it really is. I want to collect everyone's story and start showing the data as to show why we can eliminate this portion of the landfill," she says. "But at the same time, Detroit is a city that has an opportunity to build from the ground up. The entrepreneurial spirit is here, and this is an opportunity to get Detroit to become more sustainable."

She adds, "My goal is to eliminate all the food from going to the landfill." And to do that, Murray says all Detroiters need to get their hands dirty.

World Environment Day at Detroit Dirt

Get your hands dirty and celebrate World Environment Day on June 5 with Detroit Dirt and learn how the compost company helps turn food waste into a reusable resource.

"We have an opportunity to create a viable city with our waste stream," says Pashon Murray, founder of Detroit Dirt. "We need to clean the city up to start identifying what resources we have because at the end of the day, 15 or 20 years from now, the resources that we have today won't look the same."

Visit DetroitDirt.org for more information on volunteer opportunities and to find out how you can get involved locally in turning waste into a resource.

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