Durham Originals Sustainability Tips: Fashion, Food, Awareness

One step at a time, I spiral up the carpeted staircase making my way up to the third floor. I pass by glass windows looking down carpeted hallways as my hand slides up the stair railing. Looking side to side, a paper sign with handwritten directions guides me to a wooden door of Suite 303. As I knock, the wood reverberates and I hear it click open, unveiling the cozy space that is the Orange St. Collective. Its name automatically makes the idea of a space with just energy and ideas coming together bubble up in my mind. As I step inside, I find this to be reality with diagrams drawn on whiteboards, cheery posters about upcoming projects scattered on tables, and an expansive, handcrafted diagram of the feminine economy that spans from the floor to the ceiling on a back wall.

Wearing a beautiful, deep navy dress with stitches of white embroidery is Daria, with her unwaveringly calm but enthusiastic energy. This energy and passion for her work has taken her far as she is the founder of The Durham Originals and a board member for Keep Durham Beautiful. Behind her on a shelf are a few pieces of her work, organic cotton shirts that she has designed. The colors are light, mossy greens, soft creams, and gentle blues with smooth, rounded letters spelling “The Durham Originals” in a loose cursive.

As we move towards a back room to talk, the coziness of the dimly lit sitting space gives way to the eclectic as we take a seat at a worktable made from an upcycled white door. I try to shift myself so that I don’t bump into the faded golden doorknob near my elbow.

 Daria has brought a cutting board and X-Acto knife with her so she can continue her work while we talk. While busy, she loves her work and was inspired to become an entrepreneur after being a bartender and going back to school for graphic design. She united these skills with her desire to take action as she learned more and more about humanity’s effect on the environment.

 “This was at a time when climate change was being able to be talked about more,” she tells me. “And so I started watching all these Netflix documentaries and realizing what is actually happening in the world.”

Prior to this self-education, she felt like most of us do as we move through our daily lives. We use plastic water bottles or partake in “fast fashion” without thinking or even knowing about the consequences of those actions. These unknown facts can be staggering, though. It is not often that we think about how 13.1 million tons of textiles are trashed each year or that nearly half of that said trash is completely reusable. It was through her awareness of these issues that The Durham Originals was born.

“Durham Originals is a way to connect with people and promote sustainable living, a sustainable lifestyle, and to show people there are very easy, simple steps that make a huge difference,” Daria explains to me. “Fashion is one of the most wasteful industries and is overproducing cheap stuff that’s single-use. Having organic cotton benefits everything: who wears it, who makes it, etcetera.”

While it can be overwhelming to think about the sourcing of every piece of your clothing, and sometimes you may not have the option to be selective, there are plenty of other ways that small actions can add up. I asked Daria what people should focus on in their daily lives if they want to make a shift. Her answer boiled down to fashion, food, and single-use plastic.

In regards to fashion, buying secondhand comes before buying new. By stepping into a thrift store and browsing the racks you are saving 7 lbs. of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere for every 1 lb. of cotton reused. Otherwise, invest in brands such as Durham Originals that are committed to sustainable production to feel sound about your clothing choices.

Food is another part of your daily life where small changes add up to make a impact. “If we can reduce the amount of animal products we consume then we can really make moves and change the course of climate change,” Daria explains to me as she slices her X-Acto knife through some cream cardstock. But she understands that even this can sometimes be daunting, “Just trying to reduce is helpful, it’s definitely a process, nobody can change overnight.”

Aside from just the food you eat, how you are eating it is something that being mindful can be helpful. A lot of to-go packaging is “single-use waste that is petroleum based that produces copious amounts of stuff that’s good for five to ten minutes,” she tells me. Instead, try to be mindful about carrying a reusable mug, your own silverware, or a reusable straw. Even just bringing your own reusable mug for coffee on the go instead of using a disposable coffee cup can make a huge difference. One cup doesn’t seem significant at the moment, but think of all the times you’ve gotten coffee on the go. More and more shops are starting to get used to people bringing their reusable options, such as filling reusable mugs for coffee or tea or people asking for no straw with their beverage.

Each of these pillars of The Durham Originals is what attracted her to become involved with Keep Durham Beautiful, as well. “I grew up with them,” she says with a smile, stacking the cut outs she has been working on. “That was back when they were just Keep America Beautiful, though.” She explains to me that working on The Durham Originals just instantly connected her to organizations with similar initiatives, such as Keep Durham Beautiful. Not only has she worked alongside with Keep Durham Beautiful, but is one of our board members continuously helping us brainstorm and accomplish projects.

When I ask her what the most rewarding part of her work with Keep Durham Beautiful has been, she replies with a smile, “Connecting with the community and being part of the community has been one of the most rewarding things.”

Keep Durham Beautiful Seeks Applicants for Community Grants


Learn more about this program by clicking the image above!

Durham-based residents, volunteer groups and organizations looking to improve Durham’s appearance, but lacking the necessary funds to get their project going, are encouraged to apply for the Keep Durham Beautiful bi-annual grant program.

Keep Durham Beautiful will award competitive grants of up to $500 each to support projects that address key focus areas of litter prevention, waste reduction or community greening.

Priority will be given to impactful projects that leverage multiple partners and funding sources, engage volunteers to complete the work, and have a clear maintenance plan. The next deadline to submit applications is Monday July 31. For more information or to apply, visit the online grant application http://keepdurhambeautiful.org/kdb-grant-program/grant-application/.

Not Farm to Table, Table to Farm: Tilthy Rich Compost

It was easy to pass by the Geer Street Learning Garden, only to realize it was a garden with trellises and fronds of plants waving good bye those few seconds I was too late to turn in. The garden is elevated from the sidewalk by a few feet which keeps it hidden from the view of the street. The age of this part of Durham manifests itself through the beautiful, spiraling iron-wrought railings of the garden’s neighboring building with its once white brick now the color of glossy enamel. In a scene that could only be described as trippy, part of the brick building bends perfectly convex and edgeless from the center due to the swelling of the soil behind it.

I have been told that I have a bubbly personality, but upon meeting Kat I felt like a can of flat Coke in comparison. With a short dark brown bob, a black t-shirt that boasts the golden logo of Tilthy Rich Compost tucked into her high-waisted jeans, and ankle-high brown boots, Kat was smiling with glimmering eyes, and after shaking hands we were quickly walking to and fro in the garden. She was eager to show us all steps of the process as it was dispersed around the garden with its rich, dark soil and, having a peek of sunlight after showers all day, the dew glimmered on the leaves of the vegetables growing, their tendrils reaching outwards.

Leading me and Nicole, our photojournalism intern, towards the back of the garden Kat was telling us about all the moving parts set up at this location. “We are about to start doing vermiculture here which, as you probably know, is doing composting with worms,” she says, pointing at cement blocks forming square sections where the worms will help the breakdown of plant matter. Worms are particularly good at being able to break down and digest food scraps and help turn it into healthy, rich soil.

“If people don’t want their compost and they choose to donate it, this is one of the gardens where it can end up,” she explains as she looks over the garden. This is one of the unique qualities about Tilthy Rich’s model as a compost service, that after they have picked up your food scraps, sent it to be processed, and compost is made, you get compost back to use in your own yard. If you have an apartment or are not interested in the returns on your food scraps, the compost ends up at a variety of the gardens linked to the service, including the Geer Street Learning Garden.

 “Let’s come over here!” Kat says excitedly, pitchfork in hand as we duck underneath a small tunnel  that lead to the back part of the garden. Towards the front, there are a few different piles. One is solely food including old tomatoes to a clementine that we agreed still looked edible. With her pitchfork she helping rotate the vegetables in the pile slightly, “We got this squash growing here that really shouldn’t be, but…” she inspects the leaves of the squash plant, its orange blossom just starting to coyly peek through. It looks quite cozy and content being surrounded by the small pile of decomposing food, its leaves peeping through clumps of old carrots and melons.

“What do people say when they find out this is the kind of work you do?” I ask her as I observe her working with the pitchfork to turn over the vegetables and fruits.

“A lot of people think that this work is really smelly and dirty,” she says. “It really isn’t and doesn’t have to be though.” Instead, the goal for Tilthy Rich is for it to be a minimal amount of work on behalf of their customers. Her main priority is making composting less intimidating and helping people understand why it is important. “It’s amazing how much stuff ends up being wasted, that’s what we are here for.”

We walk over to the pile of finished compost, which looks dark, rich, and even fluffy in its texture. It even has that pleasant earthy and woody fragrance that makes you think of playing in the woods as a kid. This compost has 3 to 1 ratio of carbon to nitrogen to make it so beneficial to plants. The compost that Tilthy Rich creates is made over in Goldstein, North Car    olina at a permitted plant that allows them to compost items typically left out of this cycle including dairy, meat, and even pizza boxes. Kat has a personal passion for soil, having studied soil science at UNC, and keeps her own compost at home. There she fiddles and changes parts of the composting process, measures it, and sees if there was a particular desired effect from her experimentation. But even doing her backyard compost, she says she notices how quickly the bucket of traditionally non-compostable material such as dairy, fills up.

We decide to escape the heat, going inside into the building that they share with other food initiatives including Farmer Foodshare. The space echoes with concrete floors and large fridges gently humming in the background. Even in a relatively bare space, there are still coffee machines and espresso machines just tucked out of sight. The sun shines through the glass garage door that is the face of the building. Sitting down with her, I ask her why she got involved with Tilthy Rich, wondering how someone happens to stumble into the composting business.

The story begins in 2012 with Chris Russo, the original founder of Tilthy Rich Composting. Where he lived previously, there had been municipal composting, and was confused at the lack of such a service in Durham. In his confusion and even frustration he went to the City of Durham asked about municipal composting.

“He kind of got the answer of, ‘Well we just got people on board with recycling, so we need another 10 years before we even get to composting.’” Kat explains.

Russo had just finished a cross-country bike trip and was obsessed with the idea of doing work with bicycles. He was also a follow of the philosophy that if you can do something on a bike, that’s how you should do it. “So that’s why our riders still work on bikes today. If we have a business that is all about sustainability, it only makes sense that we are doing it sustainably, you know?” She says enthusiastically. From there Tilthy Rich Compost was born.

Kat enters the picture two years ago in 2015 having just returned from working on composting in Nepal. “It just amazed me that people in third world countries can manage their waste better,” she says, and hence her passion for the mission was born. She started as both an administrative employee and a biker for the service. Eventually, as one of Russo’s side projects took off, she was delegated to take over. Her love for soil sciences and the importance of protecting the climate in the age of climate change are huge cornerstones for her passion at work.

“One of the biggest things that is missing when we talk about agriculture and climate change is the soil,” she explains to me. “Composting doesn’t only prevent climate change but reduces climate change. Honestly, if people want to help the environment the two biggest things they should do are become vegetarian and compost.”

“What is the kind of resistance you get from people about composting?” I ask her, wondering how many people are truly anti-composting.

“Well…the hardest thing is to tell people who think they are composting is that they are doing it wrong,” she shrugs. “Because a lot of people ask me why they should have this service if they already have a compost pile when, in reality, they aren’t composting or turning the pile regularly but are just rotting food scraps. There is a difference between composting and rotting food scraps.”

This is truly where the crux of the issue comes in with why composting has not rapidly proliferated as a norm. Aside from the misconception that composting has to be smelly and just rotting food, it is that people do not know what composting is. “It one, builds soil, and two, reduces methane.” This reduction of methane is what helps slow and reverse climate change. “The bad thing about rotting food scraps instead of composting it properly is that it is still releases methane, which is what happens when food is sent to a landfill.”

Aside from a few misunderstandings about how important it is to compost correctly, is people also do not think they should pay the monthly fee for the service. “People think that recycling and trash services are free, when really it’s coming from taxes,” she explains. Kat and Tilthy Rich want to have a commitment to people who are just focused on putting food on the table much less putting food into a compost bin. As a solution, Kat hopes they can eventually partner with the city to have a system of municipal composting where it can be paid by taxes, but until then they still need to charge for the service.

They recently partnered with CompostNow, which was born as virtually the same time as Tilthy Rich, but the service is over in Raleigh and uses cars. Now that they have partnered together, Tilthy Rich’s territory is still having their multitalented crew of bikers that are composed of yoga instructors, musicians, and artists go up to 18 mile rides to get the compost in downtown Durham. Meanwhile, CompostNow’s cars can access any areas that are too far of a reach for the bikers. They are quickly expanding and hope to be in the Chapel Hill and Carrboro areas soon, especially since the presence of bike lanes and current efforts for composting make the expansion look promising.

While the conversation of “farm to table” continues to grow, Tilthy Compost is here to expand and continue the conversation of “table to farm.” Over here at Keep Durham Beautiful we also want to spotlight and grow this conversation, as composting helps with our mission of reducing littering and helps build soil meaning healthier gardens. So let’s get talking, what do you still want to know about composting?

5 Pollinator Plants with Medicinal Properties

Stepping into a garden, there is an automatic hushed peace that comes with something that does not move or react as quickly as the constant paging through television channels or endless scrolling with which we have become accustomed. Instead, the growth of plants occurs at a diligent pace where our eyes are fooled into believing that there is no movement or change, only for us to wake up and be surprised by the beautiful magenta crowns of Bee balm. When you listen closely, you can hear the hum of productivity in the garden that comes from the whir of bees wings. Hearing a hummingbird for the first time in the season requires a moment of pause, as their powerful and quick wing strokes almost sound like a enormous wasp, only to be surprised by the glossy emerald or regal ruby throat of a tiny bird. In such a garden, where particular plants are selected for flowers that are elevated and easy to drink nectar or to gather golden puffs of pollen from, pollinators are healthy and abundant. Such plants are a boon for moths, butterflies, bees, bumblebees, and hummingbirds. While watching the expeditious work of the honeybee and the purposeful but lilting routine of the butterfly is certain reward enough for having such plants, the stalks and flowers that are in a pollinator garden often have hidden healing properties with a history that goes back to the early Americas when Native Americans would harness such properties. Today is the last day of National Pollinator Week, a time of being able to learn more about how to help our honeybees and butterflies, but we also wanted to provide you with information for five pollinator plants that also have medicinal properties.

We will start with the unassuming, even meek mountain mint. Huddling together in clusters, the shy and small flowers of mountain start a light green and blossom into a linen white or soft lilac color. While delicate, even doily-like n appearance, these flowers were believed to have the power and strength to revive the dead. Their flowers and leaves are edible either raw or cooked and taste of an intense heat that comes with such a strong mint flavor, almost menthol-like in its strength. Tea can be created from it with analgesic, antiseptic, and tonic properties that can help with maladies from menstrual pain to coughs to colds to fevers. Even the worst case of chiggers will yield to the powerful aromatic qualities of this small plant. It easily helps fill your home with its minty aroma when dried and burned with incense or in a sage bundle. Mountain mint is a wonderful starter to any pollinator garden as it is easily grown, preferring to look towards the sun and enjoys a drier spot in the garden.


With stunning scarlet petals, the Cardinal flower stands as a crimson sentry over the other shrubs that may surround. Its regal appearance matches its namesake, which comes from the crimson cloaks of Roman Catholic priests. The Iroquois, Delaware, Cherokee, and Meskwaki tribes used this showy plant both ceremonially and medicinally. Its medicinal powers are either derived from its roots or its leaves. The roots have impressive antispasmodic properties, able to halt bronchial spasms when smoked at the first sign of discomfort. Furthermore, it has been used for treatment of epilepsy, syphilis, typhoid, stomachaches, cramps, and worms. Its leaves are long and thin, and when made into tea help treat croup, nosebleeds, colds, fevers, and headaches.


A number of pollinator friendly plants have stunning purple, red, and pink colors that make them so attractive to the senses of hummingbirds and bees. Bee balm is another flower to have easily accessible blossoms of such radiance. When making a salad on a summer day, you can include the edible flowers of bee balm as a festive garnish. A source of oil and thyme, bee balm is fragrant and an inspiring addition to aromatic and medicinal teas. This is truly the idel plant to grow in the Carolinas as it enjoys heavy clay soils, though it does require partial shade. If you are growing the red variety, it was known as Oswego tea and was used by colonists in place of English tea. Native Americans recognized that the four varieties of bee balm had different odors and was used as a sweat inducer for ceremonial sweat lodges as well as for its healing properties. The flowers and stems can be used for antiseptic, carminative, diaphoretic, diuretic, and stimulant properties and help with lowering fevers, soothing sore throats, treating colds, and helping with other inflammation related illnesses. It can also be used externally for infections.


As the author I want to interject that purple coneflower or Echinacea is truly my favorite of the pollinator plants that also have medicinal properties for humans. It looks hostile with its large, bristling cone with a skirt of fluorescent purple petals, but is a pillar to herbal healing. Its use dates back to Native Americans observing that when elk were wounded or sick, they would seek out and consume the Echinacea plant. Since then, Plains Indians used Echinacea to treat anthrax and snakebites, the Kiowa and Cheyenne tribes used the flower for coughs and sore throat, and the Sioux tribes used it as a painkiller. Scientific studies confirm that Echiancea actively boosts the immune system, reduces inflammation, and helps hormonal and viral disorders. Of all the plants to have in your herbal medicine cabinet, this is truly as close as you can get to a panacea. 


As nature changes from its summer to autumnal wardrobe, the American Beautyberry is truly the statement piece with bold magenta berries that look like beads strung together to form necklaces and bracelets. These berries emerge from delicate, lacey flowers that are rose-tinted and small, clinging to its stem. Alabama, Choctaw, Creek, Koasati, Seminole, and other Native American tribes have used it as an insect repellant, the root and leaf for sweat baths to treat fevers and malaria, and the root for dysentery and stomach aches. Science has confirmed the folk usage of this plant through finding it indeed has compounds that repel mosquitoes and other biting insects.

            A pollinator garden is versatile, like much of nature, and can provide so many things for those who take the time to grow them. It will help your raised bed of squash and tomatoes, provide a safe haven and place to feed for our pollinators that are becoming increasingly challenged by human development, and can also be your medicine cabinet for making teas, tinctures, and a fresh, flowery snacks with benefits abound. Looking across the garden now, you can hear the beating of a hummingbird’s wings, and the colorful robes of the butterflies that move from flower to flower. A mixture of lacey, white flowers and bold, impressive fronds of scarlet and crimson petals, these plants have grown from this earth and provided medicinal help to people who have lived on the same land for hundreds of years. Just as the honeybee can get pollen from the flowers, you too can improve your life and health from growing these pollinator friendly plants in your own garden.