He was going to need great compost... and a lot of it! The problem was, there wasn't any.
Alan York greeted Randy with a big smile and a hug. He was a renaissance man who was an amazing farmer and a better Biodynamic winemaker.
Malibu Compost started when Randy Ritchie, our founder, couldn’t find any good organic compost to use on a landscape project in Malibu. His client wanted to grow clean, healthy, organic food for her business. Her intensive organic food grow was going to be the centerpiece of this project. The truth was, Randy didn’t even want to do the food growing part of the job. He was a landscape designer and builder. He liked to draw pretty pictures and plant beautiful landscapes. That was his job, not growing an acre of food for his client’s upcoming recipe book. His client didn’t care whether Randy wanted to grow food or not, he was hired.
There were a couple of issues he was going to have to face to pull off this large urban food farm, including the heavy, wet, salty air being so close to the coast, the climate being too cool for many of the crops that she wanted to grow, but the biggest problem out the gate was soil. She had really crappy clay soil, and he was going to need to break that down and create some tilth if this project was going to be successful. He was going to need great compost… and a lot of it! The problem was, there wasn’t any. The options he had were: buying the recycled green waste compost from the city or the big soil yard in Oxnard, or trucking in tons of conventional AG waste compost from farms in the Central Valley, or buying pallets of bagged “organic” compost from the local nurseries that didn’t really smell too organic.
The soil issue was going to be a big problem. His first glimmer of hope came when he was standing in line at the grocery store on Point Dume and he saw an article that called out to him from the Wine Spectator Magazine. The bold print on the cover said, “WINE GOES GREEN.” It was an article about a biodynamic vintner fighting for the environment.
Biodynamic? What the heck was Biodynamic he thought. He bought the magazine and took his groceries home to his starving kids. He read the article as he prepared dinner and realized, when he got to the part about the vineyard's Biodynamic compost being the secret to their award winning wine, that he had to reach out to the vintner Alan York of Benziger Vineyards in Sonoma.
He called the vineyard and to his surprise someone answered the phone. He asked for Alan and the voice on the other line said, "This is Alan." Randy couldn't believe his luck! Was it a sign? What good fortune! He told Alan that he had read the article and that he was a landscaper doing an urban organic farm in Malibu and wondered if he could hire Alan as a consultant on the project. After a moment, Alan responded, "No." Randy pressed him further and asked, "Okay then, would it be possible to buy some of your compost then?" He waited for Alan to respond. It was a very short wait, “No.” Randy was a Malibu designer and builder and just like his clients, he wasn’t used to people saying ‘No.” He thought for a moment and tried one more tact, “Well, then, would it be possible for me to come up and see your farm and take a look at your compost?” Alan fired back, “Sure, but you better hurry because I’m leaving for Chile in three days to start a new vineyard!” Randy couldn’t believe his ears. Did this guy just say, “Yes.” He threw a bag together, kissed his kids goodbye and jumped into the car. Time was a wasting and he didn’t have any time to burn. The drive to Sonoma was about eight hours from Malibu. He wanted to be there in the morning to meet Alan.
Alan York greeted Randy with a big smile and a hug. He was a renaissance man who was an amazing farmer and a better Biodynamic winemaker. He took Randy on a tour of the vineyard. He showed Randy the insectary, which was how they used beneficial insects to attack the pests on their farm and garden. Randy was blown away by the species and variety of plants that Alan was using to attract pollinators and beneficials. This was the first time that Randy had seen an IPM program in action. This left a huge impression on him and this was something that he eventually incorporated on the farm in Malibu. Alan saved the best for last. He took Randy to the compost piles and told him to go ahead, “Dig in… grab a handful and tell me what you think.” Randy did as instructed and reached into the compost and grabbed a handful. He held the compost in his hand and felt for the first time what a truly living soil felt like. He could feel the energy of the compost and the microscopic life in his hands. He had what he called an out-of-body experience as he stood there with this strange winemaker holding his compost. Randy said that all he could feel was this internal voice telling him over and over that, “Your life is about to change.”
And change it did.
It was at our first meeting
that we decided the world
needed to have access to
the best soil on the planet...
Around that time, we did one of the things that we had vowed to do when we formed the company; to start rescuing cows and to bring the focus of animal rights to the forefront of our mission.
More than that, we have become a part of a big family that we call the Bu Family, a family that stretches from Portland, Oregon to Portland, Maine.
I took all of the things that I had learned on the farm in the Central Valley that Alan had introduced me to and applied them to the creation of the new urban organic farm in Malibu. Every time I applied the compost or compost tea, I knew that Alan York had opened the door to a whole new world for me, the world of Rudolf Steiner and Biodynamics.
It was shortly thereafter that I met Colum. Colum Riley had grown up on a biodynamic farm in a biodynamic community in Pennsylvania. He had just finished an MBA program in Sustainable Business at Loyola Marymount. It was at our first meeting that we decided the world needed to have access to the best soil on the planet... biodynamic compost. We knew that we had to find a way to certify it, bag it and start to sell it to the gardeners of the West Coast.
We wrote a business plan and put out feelers to our friends and family that we were starting the first biodynamic compost company in the United States. Our plan was to sell and market true organic and biodynamic compost to the independent nurseries in California, and if that worked, next to Oregon and Washington. Within days we had our first investor, and within a month we had successfully finished our raise to start Malibu Compost LLC.
In that group of first investors of friends and family we would meet Renie Byrne, a friend of my brother’s. She and her husband Bob were savvy investors. They believed one hundred percent in Malibu Compost’s mission to bring healthy, true organic soil to the world. More importantly for Malibu Compost, Renie had years of experience running a publishing business for a Tibetan book publisher in San Francisco.
Renie came onboard to sort out and run the accounting and logistics side of the business. I went out to the independent nursery market in Southern and Northern California to sell and market the biodynamic compost that was coming off the farm in the Central Valley. In the beginning, I would sell store to store and then Colum would figure out how to get the product there. Sometimes he delivered it in a rented truck, and other times we would load up my Prius to the roof with bags to get our Bu’s Blend Biodynamic Compost out to the stores. (Did you know that you can fit an entire pallet of compost in a Prius? You can! With all of the the seats down and with handfuls of bags dropped onto the floor of the rear and front passenger seats!).
Around that time, we did one of the things that we had vowed to do when we formed the company; to start rescuing cows and to bring the focus of animal rights to the forefront of our mission. I adopted Bu from a slaughter auction. Bu became our spokescow and much, more more. Her story is a huge piece of the history of Malibu Compost, maybe the most important piece. You can read her story below in The Story of Bu.
The big break came for Malibu Compost when we were brought on by two large distributors; First came Sparetime Supply, a large regional distributor and then Central Garden Distribution, a national distributor. Even though we still only had one product at the time, the one cubic foot bag of Bu’s Blend Biodynamic Compost, with Bu’s Brew Biodynamic Compost Tea (now Compost Tea for Plants, Trees and Shrubs) about to make its debut, our hard work and dedication to healthy soil and healthy gardening was beginning to pay off.
Independent nurseries and feed stores all over the West were bringing in pallets and pallets of Bu's Blend. It was a brand new and very fresh entry into the old world establishment of the lawn and garden industry. No-one had ever heard of Biodynamic Compost before. Buyers from Laguna Beach to Seattle were willing to take a risk on us, as I sold them on the merits of our healthy, farm-made and organic living compost.
Next we launched an entire line of Biodynamic Compost Teas for Flowering Plants and Roses, Compost Tea for Fruits, Vegetables and Tomatoes, and our original, BU's Brew (now Compost Tea for Plants, Trees and Shrubs) for everything else. That would have never happened without the ingenuity and help from our very own Buddhist monk, Brad Calkins. Brad figured out and built an entire tea manufacturing center at our home office in Berkeley that we call the TeaHouse. We can never thank him enough!
Since then, we have added two new compost teas to our collection. Our Compost Tea for Houseplants for the indoor garden, and our Compost Tea for Acid Loving Plants.
We had been asked by a major landscape company to create an organic and GMO-free potting soil for one of their customers, who happened to be one of the largest companies in the world. The potting soil had worked so well for them, we knew that it was the next product that we had to share with the world. It was time for the first true organic and GMO-free potting soil in America. We named it after our spokescow Bu's first baby, Baby Bu.
Just as we were starting to take off we had a huge setback! Apparently, we had outgrown our original farm relationship. The farmers we were working with decided that they didn’t want to supply us with anymore compost or any land on their farm for us to make compost. It was at that moment that seemed so dark, and so hard, that we found an organic dairy farm in the foothills of the Central Valley that would supply us with the organic manure and the land that we needed to make our own biodynamic compost.
And make compost we did. We began making even better compost than the compost that we had been making before. We created new protocols and grew leaps and bounds as the premier compost manufacturer in the United States. We started a second farm, Bu Farm in Oregon, where the compost and our ability to scale to meet the needs of the expanding organic soil market has grown and grown.
As suddenly as I had found the elixir of soil life from Alan York, we had burst onto the independent garden scene and had made a name for ourselves. In ten years, we have become the leader in the organic sector of the soil market. We have the greatest, most successful independent nurseries in America selling our line, that now includes a turf line, organic care for houseplants and a seed starter. More than that, we have become a part of a big family that we call the Bu Family, a family that stretches from Portland, Oregon to Portland, Maine. We have the most loyal, most amazing family and friends in the world. Every day out in the gardens across America our family grows as someone uses our compost, potting soil, turf mix or compost teas in their garden for the first time.
We have also been blessed to have the opportunity to teach garden classes and give lectures on soil health at nurseries, garden clubs, community gardens and flower and garden shows all across the country. We get to give back. That was one of the critical pieces that we knew that had to be one of the cornerstones of our company. We are all believers at Malibu Compost that by giving to others, the planet, the animals, the environment, that we’re going to receive the greatest gift of all - LOVE. We give love and in return we are loved. We are grateful and thankful everyday for each and everyone of the people who has supported us along the way.
Thank you to all of the gardeners out there who put their trust in us by using our compost, teas and soil in your most sacred of spaces, your gardens. We know that you have many choices for the products that you bring into your gardens. We so appreciate all of you who have chosen Malibu Compost. As stewards of our earth, we know that the soil we grow, the food we grow and the love that all of you bring into your gardens every day affects all of our bodies, our minds, our souls, our health and our environment, because at Malibu Compost we believe that a healthy world begins with healthy soil… and a lot of teaching!