Wearing brown from head to toe, Chad Latta of Latta Earthworks seems to blend into the piles of compost that surround him. “Welcome to my sandbox,” Latta says with a smile. The compost site sits just outside the county seat of Athens. “This is where I like to unwind,” Latta says. “This is just my getaway.”
Latta, a firefighter with the Athens Fire Department, started his business in 2012 after a tomato gardening competition with his fellow firefighters. Latta’s tomato plants were not doing well, and he discovered the area lacks quality topsoil.
“I realized what I had to do was not bring in more soil…I had to make the soil I had better, and that’s where the compost comes in,” Latta says.
After meeting people who expressed interest in a local composting site, Latta decided to take a composting class at the Ohio State University Agricultural Technical Institute in Wooster to become a certified composter. Latta Earthworks is currently registered as a Class III composting site with the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (Ohio EPA), which means it can accept yard waste, agricultural waste and animal waste for its compost.
He uses construction machinery to mix the manure and other organic material, like leaves and wood chips, and arrange it into rows. “It’s like mixing lemonade. You’ve got to have it just right,” Latta says.
“In composting, you have a bunch of microbes,” Latta says. “As long as you keep the rows fluffed and keep the correct moisture content in there, you keep them happy.”
Latta is required to send his compost to Westerville, Ohio, to be tested by an independent lab, CLC Labs, before selling it. He also tracks the inventory of compost leaving his facility, and this counts toward Athens County’s recycling credits.
Latta hopes to help Athens County in more ways than just plants. “My goal is for this place to be self-sufficient and create a couple local jobs,” Latta says. “The ultimate thing would be for this place to get big enough to that it could pay a couple of people’s income.”
Currently, however, the business is a one-man job, unless you count the microbes. “It’s me and a bunch of microbes working together. Me and Mother Nature kicking butt to help save her,” Latta says.
Mother Nature does her part to remove the smell of the manure from the final product. The carbon from wood chips and other materials neutralizes the manure, making it smell earthy, like the way it smells after it rains. Rain is an important factor in the composting process, helping the compost maintain the proper moisture levels to cure.
But more important for this operation are Latta’s time, sweat and heart that go into the compost every step of the way. Latta’s dedication to his end product is clear in one of his ideas for the business’ next slogan: Composting Dung Right.
Ted Welser pushes aside a vacuum plastic curtain and climbs a set of steep stairs
that lead to the loft of his garage on the residential east side of Athens. The plywood walls are barely visible under interlocking nobs and bits. Polyurethane climbing holds make up the majority of the mimic rock which resembles cleverly reconstituted construction scraps.
Sydney Welser, 12, hangs upside down from a suspended length of PVC piping as her father says, “Yeah, this room has been a work in progress since we moved here. We finished this wall first, in 2013.” Climbing down, Sydney chimes in, “and then that one was next, it was the easiest,” gesturing toward a jumble of holds under one of the room’s only two windows.
The Welser garage loft — named The Dojo — is small by almost every metric. The Dojo is the personal climbing space of Ted Welser who, with the help of two other Athens locals, Bryant Noble and Jesse Stock, founded Climb Athens L.L.C. in September 2016.
Welser and existing members of Athens rock climbing community have managed to fit more than 105 planned “routes” and 1500 holds into a space that might be better suited for storage than for sport.
“Climbing gyms in Japan have to be like this [cramped],” Welser says pointing at an empty space between holds. “This would probably have a hold here.”
In that way, Welser reflects the personality of many climbers: tenacious. In the past year Climb Athens LLC. has attracted about 30 funding members.
Climb Athens is a non-profit organization dedicated to spreading the cornerstone tenets of rock climbing in the Athens area. Currently, the organization is in the process of applying for a 501(c)7 non-profit “Social Club” tax exemption license, and operates as such. Some of it’s ultimate goals include, “Building a supportive, cooperative community,” “Encouraging healthy, lifelong active lifestyles,” and establishing, “high quality, accessible, and inspiring climbing facilities.” Climb Athens began receiving members in the fall of 2016, but was established long before that.
Welser, now at Ohio University, moved to Athens in August of 2007 from Seattle, Washington. Though Welser climbed less frequently in Washington, a fresh start and relative geographic proximity to some of the best rock climbing on the continent rekindled Welser’s interest in the sport. Though not his first home wall, Welser fondly calls The Dojo his best.
In 2013, Welser met Bryant Noble, another avid climber, at the Athens Bicycle shop.
“I have a one track mind,” Noble says. “I had been so focused on biking that I didn’t climb for about a year.”
Noble moved to Athens with a group from Illinois to found the Brookfield Church, which is located on Court Street in Athens. Welser’s garage project tipped the scales for Noble. Together, with the help of the disparate, but pre-existing climbing community, Climb Athens began construction on its bouldering wall in Noble’s more spacious garage.
Noble’s garage, named “BetaFish,” (a pun in reference to climbing slang “beta” which helps climbers understand how to climb a prescribed route) is located on Vore Ridge Road off of 682 near the University Estates. The wall stands about 12 feet tall and is wide enough for five people to climb simultaneously. The floor is plastered with couch cushions, fall mats, and two newly acquired gymnastic mats that, together, cost Climb Athens about $2000 — money raised from membership fees.
“Running this kind of thing can be expensive. We are just trying to break even at this point, but that’s kind of what climbing is about,” Welser says. “The more regular climbers we can get to sign up, the more we can offer.”
Today, in addition to Noble’s garden tools, fishing gear and car, the BetaFish rock wall features a Moon Board (sometimes called a Moon Wall), an online phenomenon that allows for standard, pre-planned routes to be set all around the world. A wood stove is stoked during hours of operation and heats the large indoor space — a graciously Appalachian twist on gym normalcy.
As their program grows, Welser and Noble hope they can expand the climbing space in BetaFish. Continued efforts to improve the routes, ensure climber safety, and keep the conversation interesting are reliant on continued funding. The addition of another location in a commercial space has also been discussed, which could accelerate the capacity for development.
For now, on Tuesdays and Thursdays, BetaFish offers a taller wall for strength training and route planning. The space provides Climb Athens members an opportunity to help develop the goals set by the organization: offering community, support and affordable climbing.
She had worked for months to rebuild her job out of the pieces of her last one, and here was another chance. Meredith Allen, who previously managed Kismet on West Union Street, is now the co-owner of Honey—Athens’ newest lingerie boutique.
If “kismet” refers to destiny or fate and “honey” is a term of endearment, the story behind Athens’ newest lingerie store seems poignant. Meredith Allen, who previously managed now-closed Kismet, found her solace in opening Honey—a women’s boutique in Athens that sells a diverse collection of lingerie and clothing, and jewelry just waiting to be paired with any purchase. Tucked in the store’s back is a small, private adult specialty section—“Wild Honey”.
Honey doesn’t replicate Kismet, but is in part Allen’s response to the fire that burned out Kismet’s building and multiple others on West Union Street in November 2014. “It puts things into perspective. I never expected that a year later I would be here looking out at the burned remains of my old life,” Allen says, wiping a tear from her eye.
Allen co-owns the store with her boyfriend, Wes Thompson. The store, which opened in mid-July on West Union Street, approaches a woman’s sexuality as something to embrace, and Allen says she wants to create a positive and comfortable atmosphere for women. “It’s nice to shop in a place that promotes a female-friendly environment,” Allen says. She emphasizes merchandise, while sexual in nature, doesn’t necessarily have to be about how another person perceives you. Allen believes her items are an avenue of confidence for any woman. “I want it to be about female empowerment,” Allen says. “You don’t need a boyfriend to wear lingerie. Whether you’re going out at night or to a business meeting, it’s about loving your body.”
Allen says she wants Honey to be a store devoid of the often-negative images of women on product packaging. To achieve this, she removes what she feels are disempowering images from displayed products.
She keeps adult products such as vibrators in the store’s “Wild Honey” section behind a white-shuttered partition for customers 18 years and older. Allen, who grew up in a Catholic household, says she understands that such material isn’t something all customers want to talk with their moms about. Although Allen doesn’t display these products up front, she is upfront with her thoughts about their use. “It should be something that you can shop for and not feel shameful,” Allen says.
“Every girl should own a vibrator.”
Locally Exquisite, Mindfully Inclusive
The majority of items and products in Honey are either fair trade or made in the United States, and merchandise sizes are mindfully inclusive. With that being said, Allen is more than happy to special order any size or design of lingerie for customers who can’t find it in-store. “Models in general are smaller, and I think that sends the wrong message,” she says. “You should be able to decorate your body, no matter what size you are.”
The fact that the store is half a block from Ohio University’s gateway aligns with her personal philosophy. “It’s important to have something like this on campus where it feels safe and comfortable. A place you can ask questions, and it’s not weird,” Allen says.
Mallory Ferguson, a senior studying health administration echoes such sentiments, adding, “Honey is a place where you can find things you normally wouldn’t in Athens. The owner really wants to create an environment where her customers feel comfortable and find what they are looking for.”
By offering vintage high-waisted pin-up panties to the contemporary chic little black dress, Honey seems to hit an underdressed fashion sweet spot.