Tamara Thomas, P.E., Terre-Source

tamara thomas

Tamara, or Tami as most of us know her, runs Terre-Source, an organics recycling company in old downtown Mount Vernon, WA, overlooking the beautiful Skagit River.  Tami started Terre-Source to serve the compost industry and provide her clients with consulting services for the best utilization of biosolids compost and guidance in navigating the regulatory requirements for composting.  Tami has been a NW Biosolids supporter since she was a student at the University of Washington in the 90s and participated as a volunteer at the early “Sludge-Fest.”  Being a lifelong learner drove Tami to earn not one, but two master’s degrees - one in Civil Engineering and the second in Soil Chemistry.  She values the expertise and knowledge that the members of Northwest Biosolids provide as an organization. 

Read more about Tami and Terre-Source.  Responses have been edited for clarity and abridged for length. 

What does your business do and what services do you offer?
First off, every client and facility are different. I provide only the business and technical consulting that they need and request on many kinds of regulatory compliance issues and compost technical questions. Such assistance may include facility permitting, site layout and design, marketing guidance, product quality improvement, efficiency and streamlining, monitoring and sampling, recordkeeping streamlining, employee training including the WAC required “basics of composting” training, and a lot of Operations Plan writing and reviewing.

My clients are located nationwide, and I have done projects in Canada as well. Washington State is my primary client base and home. I work with commercial composters, municipalities, industrial clients, and other consulting and engineering firms. Collaboration is the most important aspect of what I do. Many times, I am called in when a business discovers they have compliance issues to handle and they just aren’t sure how to go about fixing them efficiently. I work with them and the regulators to figure out workable approaches so the business can continue efficiently. Compost is my first love, but it isn’t always the most appropriate tool – so I continue to learn about other options for organic materials including anaerobic digestion, land application, biochar, biofuels, etc. Biosolids an important and challenging feedstock and resource that some of my clients choose to handle.

How did you end up working with biosolids?
Most everyone in the compost industry is aware of biosolids as a potential feedstock. It wasn’t six months after I started Terre-Source that clients were asking me to look into the best utilization of biosolids compost, details about the regulatory requirements for composting biosolids with other feedstocks at numerous sites in and out of Washington.

What resources do you employ and who do you turn to for help when working on projects?

One important resource on whom I’ve relied heavily over the past 18 years is Andy Bary at WSU-Puyallup. I can’t emphasize enough how helpful Andy’s depth of knowledge of soils in general and decades of experience with biosolids applications has been to my business. He has been instrumental for the compost industry and his practical technical approach is reassuring as well as valuable. 

I believe in learning from what other people are doing. That is part of the value of NW Biosolids is the information exchange. We are so much further ahead if we can learn from someone else’s mistakes and then go on and make our own original ones.  That is where I feel science and published research is a bit lacking. There isn’t much energy to publish mistakes, so we only learn the important stuff by talking with each other, rather than relying on the literature. I appreciate NW Biosolids for providing those opportunities.

What is your best BioFest memory?
Besides seeing people that I don’t have a chance to connect with between conferences, I love walking the ‘fun-run’ at BioFest. I usually have lovely conversations with whomever seems to match my pace that year. Steve Wilson (Brown & Caldwell) is one of my favorite walking partners. Probably a highlight was beating Sally Brown one year when she took a wrong turn on the run!

What do you envision for the future of biosolids management?
I have a positive and less positive outlook for biosolids over the next 10ish years.  

The positive view is that I believe at some point the National Organic Program is going to allow for biosolids as an organic input because of the importance of providing non-mined phosphorus on organic crops. At some point, the science will become impelling enough to reduce the emotional barriers. 

The less positive view is that at least for the short term it may not be viable to use biosolids as we are accustomed without somehow treating for pharmaceuticals. Popular opinion is becoming more aware of these contaminants and more concerned with minute quantities potentially contributed to soil and water. This is one of the reasons I am so pro-composting and am beginning to look at other potential products such as biochar and biogas. 

What is something most biosolids folks wouldn’t know about you?
I am a wannabe artist and have dabbled in glass blowing, pen & ink, pottery & wood carving. When I retire, I hope to do more of those (and other) things and maybe even get good at something! Also, I love puzzles – Sudoku, KenKen, and other New York Times puzzles… except crosswords!