Pashon Murray: Not Afraid to Get Her Hands Dirty

Pashon Murray is no stranger to waste. Growing up, her father owned a small waste management company in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Whenever he took her on his trips to the landfill, it confused her that there was so much being thrown out. “It never made sense to me to be making waste and then burying it,” she said.

This is something Murray continued to grapple with throughout her time in college. She wasted no time after graduating from Wayne State in Detroit, deciding that she wanted to reduce the amount of waste heading to the landfill. Rolling up her sleeves, Murray chose to put down roots in Detroit – a city that could benefit from a her creative ideas. There she founded her own company, Detroit Dirt.

Murray had a simple plan; collect food scraps from eateries in Detroit, toss them all in giant piles, and let nature do the rest. Worms and insects would process the waste, alongside other microbes, creating a nutrient-rich soil that supports plant life. Murray began to sell this dirt to urban gardeners, who went crazy for it. After all, in Murray’s own words, “Compost is king.”

But Murray was not content to stop at composting. Detroit Dirt’s mission is to “become an engine for the urban farming movement by regenerating waste into resources that will reshape Detroit.” Through Detroit Dirt, Murray has been showing corporations that composting just makes sense – they can save money and help their surrounding communities by recycling food waste.

Since it started in 2010, Detroit Dirt has garnered significant recognition from the public and private sectors, from recognition from the  city of Detroit to receiving the Martha Stewart American Made award in the food category in 2014.

Alex Minkin (2)

General Motors has even gone so far as to donate all of their food and coffee grounds generated by their headquarters, significantly contributing to Murray’s mission to produce “Cost Effective Earth Protective” compost. She’s even presented her business to the White House for its first ever Demo Day, where innovative entrepreneurs, particularly women and people of color, came together to share their ideas. Activists across the country have since been inspired by her business, using it as a model to jumpstart their own urban farming movements.

This is exactly what Murray wants. Think about it – in 2013, compostable waste like food scraps, wood, yard trimmings, paper, and paperboard made up more than 61% of trash in the US, which amounts to more than 155 million tons of waste that went to the landfill instead of the compost pile. When all of this perfectly good compostable material is put in landfills, it generates a whole lot of a whole lot of methane gas, which is significantly worse for the atmosphere than carbon dioxide. That’s not even taking into account the local problems that all of this waste creates.

Imagine if all of that waste had been turned into fertile soil, and placed on abandoned lots in cities across America….and imagine if those lots were turned into urban farmland, creating delicious food. Pashon describes this as a closed-loop: “Local compost used by local farmers growing local food eaten by local consumers building a local economy.”

Barely five years after leaving college, Pashon Murray is already a symbol of the innovative and entrepreneurial spirit of a new generation – a generation that sees business opportunities and going green as flip sides of the same coin. She champions urban sustainability, creating inventive, modern-day solutions to waste using composting practices that have been around for centuries.

Her inspiration? “My desire to help people, communities, and the environment… I live to create pathways for the next generation,” says Pashon. “My work and dedication will help develop a foundation that the youth can build upon…Daily I work to answer the question, how may I make a contribution that will provide a lasting legacy?”

And to all those who wish to join her in the sustainability movement: “You really have to be willing to eat, sleep, and live what you do,” Murray said. “The budding entrepreneurs of the world and the next generation, they’re the ones who are going to be able to really create this green or sustainable economy… [they] will carry that torch.”

So let’s follow Murray’s lead and get our hands dirty.

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Photo credits:  Pashon Murray close up by Brian Doben, Pashon Murray at work by Alex Minkin.

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