TRUSS: Masoud’s Takeaways

The second annual Three Rivers Urban Soils Symposium (TRUSS) was a wonderful event where soils experts from around the United States gathered to collectively discuss the unique characteristics and challenges of urban soils. An eclectic gathering of “dirt-worshippers” and “tree-huggers” all deeply concerned with revitalizing our urban environments through careful stewardship of soils, the presenters included individuals from academia, farmers, remediation specialists, and worm ranchers (among others). Even though the attendees and presenters came from such a diverse array of backgrounds, we were all united in our desire to see urban soil systems thriving.

The symposium was broken out into 4 sessions, including presentations on “Composting in Urban Systems”, “Growing Food in Urban Soils”, “Stormwater and Resilience in Urban Soils”, and “Urban Habitat, Trees, and Greenspace”. Even across these broad categories, it was surprising how much agreement and overlap in themes the presenters had; almost all of the presentations had some discussion of the land-recycling process (making efforts to develop or otherwise invest in areas which had previously experienced disinvestment), as well as at least a passing mention of the environmentally unjust distribution of pollution within economically challenged neighborhoods and neighborhoods of color. Along with their congruence about the challenges of working in and around urban soils, the presenters also concurred about the potential solutions: careful, future-focused land stewardship, with an eye toward increasing soil organic matter, reducing sources of pollution, and elevating the concerns of the communities most negatively impacted by the historically inequitable land allocation practices.

The symposium’s presenters collectively offered the hope of revising the narrative around our urban environment, from one of a thick, distinct line between human-generated and natural landscapes, to one where the line is blurred into nonexistence.

Image Credit:
Accessed: 11/27/19
Image Credit:
Accessed: 11/27/19












From the processing of urban organic wastes into valuable organic matter to feed urban soils, to the placement, protection, and nurturing of trees within urban greenspaces, each of the presenters had their own tale to tell about the benefits of incorporating a greater amount of biodiversity into the urban fabric. By introducing additional organic matter into urban soils, we can begin to alleviate some of the worst impacts of pollution by reducing the bioavailability of contaminants (such as lead and cadmium) in soil, while simultaneously boosting the earth’s water holding capacity. This increase in soil pore water, in turn, helps to boost the growth of vegetation, which offers its own benefits to soil health in the form of sugars secreted from roots (courtesy of photosynthesis).

By carefully selecting vigorous, productive vegetation for our cities (such as honey locust) we can begin to localize production of various goods (food, fiber, timber, etc.) thereby reducing our reliance on fossil fuels for the purpose of transportation. Through the careful management of this vegetation, some wastes will inevitably be produced (branch cuttings, leaf litter, stover, pomace).

Image Credit: “Pyrolytic temperatures impact lead sorption mechanisms by bagasse biochars” Ding, Dong, et. al. 2014
Accessed: 11/27/19

Many of these wastes can be creatively converted into valuable products such as biochar (a valuable soil amendment which can bind with soil contaminants and render them less available for absorption in the gut) or worm castings (another beneficial soil amendment which can supply micronutrients to plants).

Through our participation in the Urban Soils Symposium, we here at Grounded have come back with a renewed appreciation for the many ecosystem services provided by the soil. As we continue our work to help reverse cycles of disinvestment through engagement with vacant and underutilized land, we encourage you, our readers, fans, ambassadors, and neighbors to consider the inherent value of the dirt and its denizens: this marvelous material functions continuously beneath your feet, and is foundational to your life here… so much so, that we named our planet for it!

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