Attendees of last fall’s Three Rivers Urban Soil Symposium (TRUSS) may remember learning about New York City’s decades-in-the-making municipal compost project and yearning for a Pittsburgh counterpart. That day may come sooner than you think, thanks to Grow Pittsburgh’s new Master Composter program. This certification course, generously funded by Patagonia, will train individuals already involved in growing projects around Pittsburgh and Allegheny County in best practices and volunteer management.

While similar in name, master composter participants will find that the programming is more community-oriented than a master gardener certification, focused on building “grassroots capacity for people to take compost production and food waste into their own hands,” says Russ Thorsen, Community Garden Coordinator and the primary organizer of the program. Soon-to-be master composters in the pilot year represent growing projects at African Healing Garden, Black Urban Gardeners & Farmers of Pittsburgh Cooperative (BUGS-FPC), Duquesne Community Victory Garden, Environmental Charter School, and Garden of Etna.

Thorsen, along with Dan Dalton, Three Rivers Hub Manager for Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA), will lead these individuals through six weeks of classes on soil and decomposition science, composting systems and tools, site design and management, volunteer outreach and engagement, and remediating soils in a specific Pittsburgh context. Other requirements for certification include field trips (currently postponed due to social distancing recommendations) to existing local projects and businesses, such as Hilltop-based Worm Return, and 40 hours of volunteer service working on an independent project in one’s respective community garden.

Interested in digging in more? Email Russ at to learn about applying for next year’s cohort.