Terra Firma Organics’ home base is Jackson, Wyoming, where it produces mulch and compost. It recently opened a new facility in Las Vegas, and acquired one in Reno.
BioCycle August 2018
Incoming feedstocks include yard trimmings, horse manure, brush and trees. The facility is on a challenging site exposed to wind, snow, and wildlife inhabiting nearby Bridger Teton National Forest. Strategically placed static piles enable Terra Firma to operate year round, resulting in compost and engineered topsoil blends that are sold directly to consumers and local landscapers. The company also processes construction and demolition material into wood chips to power a food dehydrating facility within the region. Terra Firma has grown to become the largest organics processing company in Wyoming and has expanded operations into Nevada.
Terra Firma composted food waste at its Teton facility as part of several pilot projects in 2009 and 2011 (see sidebar). Despite the success of these demonstration projects, food waste collection in Jackson, and Grand Teton National Park, has not yet been implemented due to a variety of constraints. The Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality determined that a food waste composting operation could not be conducted on the capped landfill and securing an additional site in Jackson has not been possible due to the high cost of land.
Early in 2015, Terra Firma acquired a yard trimmings composting and wood grinding facility in Las Vegas. Buk wanted to expand his company’s reach and grow the organization to its full potential. The constraints of expanding in Jackson led him to pursue other areas in the West.
The Las Vegas facility is in an industrial area. Yard trimmings are composted in static piles that are turned an average of 4 times per month. In the area’s arid climate, the timing of watering and turning is closely monitored by staff who utilize the ASCHL management system to help them closely track the process.
Initially, it was a challenge to enter the Las Vegas market because a large portion of materials being brought in were not clean feedstock. Thus the resulting end products were less than ideal. After taking over operations, Buk modified existing material purchase agreements to assure that only the cleanest feedstocks were received.
Feedstocks at the Las Vegas facility are comprised primarily of trees, shrubs, lawn clippings, branches and palm fronds brought in by landscaping companies. In addition, two major casinos also supply bedding mixed with a small amount of manure from their horses. In all, about 35,000 tons are composted annually.
Multiple compost and topsoil products have been crafted and are sold directly to landscape companies, with the bulk of the product going to distributors who sell the blends to their customers. Terra Firma’s products have been designed to fortify the soils that are found in the Las Vegas region. Overs from the final compost screen are sold as bedding for livestock in the area.
Full Circle Compost AcquisitionIn 2017, Buk purchased Full Circle Soils & Compost located just outside of Reno, Nevada, from longtime friend Craig Witt, who remains on staff as an integral part of the operation. “With more than 20 years of experience, has created a dynamic line of soil blends and mulches while operating a highly successful composting facility,” explains Buk. “We are really excited to partner with them.”
Full Circle operates a 40-acre site, composting about 25,000 cubic yards of material annually. Feedstock includes pre and postconsumer food waste from major retailers in the area, as well as materials from major refuse contractors and landscape companies that bring in tree trimmings and green waste. In addition, manure from the Northern Nevada Correctional Center/Stewart Conservation Camp Saddle Horse and Burro Training Program comprises a small portion of the composted organics.
Material is blended into windrows for processing on a compacted soil base. Piles are turned on average of 12 times per 12-week cycle with a straddle turner. “We touch our product 2 times more than most composters in the process of turning waste into quality products,” notes Witt. “Our focus is on the health of the soil. Keeping feedstocks clean at the source has also been key to our success.”
The energy and passion for educating end users about proper application has propelled Witt to develop a creative brand campaign about how soil enhancements can vastly improve plant health. Working with distributors across Northern Nevada and Eastern California, Full Circle is able sell its product throughout the region.
At each of the Terra Firma facilities, finished product is always tested and evaluated to meet nutrient goals and to assure that there are no contaminants in the blends. The objective has always been to create a product that is able to supplement regional soils. The biggest challenge that Buk has consistently seen is persuading decision makers and consumers to actively support large-scale diversion of organic waste in a significant manner, one that is able to help actively develop markets that are sustainable over the long run.
The Jackson, Las Vegas and Reno facilities all utilize Morbark 4600 XL and Rotochopper B66 Max track grinders. Having units with tracks facilitates off-site grinding projects in the mountains, such as one taking place at 10,000 feet elevation at a Jackson Hole mountain resort for logging projects.
When asked what drives his motivation to keep growing Terra Firma Organics, Buk explains that the intention of expansion is to find more solutions that are better designed and to push harder on the industry to improve how recyclable commodities are used and to develop local markets and sound solutions. “We are constantly seeking unique opportunities to expand our organization and expose the company to new innovations,” he notes.
Penny McBride has worked for 16 years in sustainable food solutions and organic waste management systems. She cofounded Vertical Harvest of Jackson (WY), a 3-story hydroponic greenhouse that supplies fresh produce to local grocery stores and restaurants. Ms. McBride also freelances for Terra Firma Organics and other innovative sustainable-minded businesses.