"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, one of our founders, 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 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 roses and flowers, fruits and vegetables, and our original, BU's Brew 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!
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!
FOUNDER, CEO & DIRECTOR OF SALES & MARKETING
I studied advertising and marketing at Pepperdine University in Malibu. I’ve worked as a screenwriter and producer, as well as a landscape designer and builder for many years. My landscape path led me to the creation of Malibu Compost. I began to see the world in terms of soil and microbes and how they are everything, the start of all life on this planet. The soil led me to the love of my life because she asked me to teach a gardening class at the community garden she co-created. It has also led me to teaching organic gardening classes and workshops in nurseries and garden clubs all over the United Sates.
My favorite vegetables are peas, and I am crazy about blood oranges! I have an adult daughter who is married, successful and amazing!
I love teaching, going on walks, gardening, praying, meditating and being of service. I feel blessed and lucky everyday!
SHIPPING MANAGER & COMPOST TEA PRODUCTION
CFO & DIRECTOR OF LOGISTICS OPERATIONS
Before Malibu Compost I worked in finance for both profit and non-profit companies. I started to work with Malibu Compost in 2010. In college I studied nutrition, the arts and finance. My interest in nutrition and health has only grown over the years. I’m a gardener at heart. I love the beauty, the smells, the magic that goes on in one’s garden and of course I love getting my hands dirty with amazing rich soil.
My favorite vegetable is spinach! It not only is so good for you with lots of vitamins and minerals, but I also get to walk out to my garden each day and pick fresh spinach for my green smoothie in the morning. The best way to start my day! My favorite fruit is Satsuma oranges. They are called Unshiu in Japan and are small and very sweet. They are available in December through January.
Gardening adds years to your life and life to your years!
COMPOST & COMPOST TEA PRODUCTION
I began working for Malibu Compost in 2010. My formal education includes college at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, CA. My education took a turn when I became interested in Tibetan Buddhism. For the next 30 years I worked and studied at a Tibetan Meditation Retreat Center in Northern CA. At the Buddhist Retreat Center, we grew organic produce and maintained a vast array of flowers, plants and trees. I quickly realized how important soil was in determining how well our plants could grow.
My favorite fruits are peaches and raspberries and my favorite veggie is asparagus.
I love music, specifically jazz, and I enjoy walks in the woods and on the seaside.
I started working for Malibu Compost in 2017. I’m currently furthering my education studying psychology. I’m proud to be working for a healthy organic soil company and making it available for so many. I love working with a team that has similar values. Gardening for me is about planting a seed and watching it grow. I like seeing the cows at the farm. It makes me feel connected to mother nature and the environment around me.
My favorite food is pizza and there isn’t anything tastier than picking fresh tomatoes from the garden and putting it on my pizza. My favorite fruit is cherries and my favorite veggie is asparagus.
Our promise is to create a quality product that helps the plants, the planet and helps the people.
THE STORY OF BU
“Bu. We’ve named you Bu. We hope you like it. You’re never going to have another bad day again girl. We are going to love you and take care of you. You are going to change people’s lives Bu. You’re safe girl. You’re free.”
"She started out with a couple of steps, checking to see how her overgrown hooves were going to take to this strange, soft, green-covered earth."
"The one thing that we do know, and that we can all absolutely agree on, is that this cow, our beloved Bu, changed all of our lives forever..."
When Malibu Compost began, we all agreed to do our very best to protect and help people, planet and animals. Nothing is a clearer example of that truth - that tenet for us, then the day we rescued Bu, or as the real story goes, she rescued us. When we started Malibu Compost, the founding members decided that even though we’d never even sold a bag of compost that we were going to rescue cows.
Bu was our first. We found her as the auctioneer yelled out, “Go to beef!” We were at this horrible slaughter auction in Visalia, California. It was dusty and hot, and you could hear the sound of fear in the cows’ voices as they packed them into the makeshift stockyards for transport to the slaughterhouse. The trucks would roll in and the cows would tense up and get agitated as they vocalized their fear in sounds that would put a chill up any person’s spine who cared about animals. They could smell the death of the slaughterhouse in those transports.
They rushed Bu off, Randy yelled out to the auctioneer, “I want that cow!” The old crusty auctioneer replied smugly to Randy, “You don’t want her son, she’s a three-titter.” That meant that one of her nipples was closed, and they thought that she had mastitis, but nonetheless, they were still selling her for beef. Randy forced the issue and in no time, Bu was in Aaron McAfee’s trailer, and they were headed off to Organic Pastures dairy in Fresno.
They got to Organic Pastures and readied for Bu’s release to freedom. Just before they opened the trailer, Randy and Bu locked eyes and stared at each other for a moment. He spoke to her calmly and lovingly, “Bu. We’ve named you Bu. We hope you like it. You’re never going to have another bad day again girl. We are going to love you and take care of you. You are going to change people’s lives Bu. You’re safe girl. You’re free.”
And with that, Aaron swung open the trailer door and Bu stepped down to freedom. It was probably the first time that Bu had ever touched real grass. She’d come from a typical conventional dairy farm in the Central Valley, with concrete pads and cows packed in like sardines. Bu had recently calved because she was full with milk, but overall she looked underweight and filthy dirty. No-one had taken care of this poor cow. She was just another number, another piece of livestock. If she’d been one of the lucky ones, she might have made it to three, or maybe four years old before being shipped off to slaughter. Bu was just about two.
She took a very ginger first couple of steps, and then lifted her nose up into the air and sniffed what a real organic farm smelled like. She started out with a couple of steps, checking to see how her overgrown hooves were going to take to this strange, soft, green-covered earth. Within seconds, she was running the fence-line, with the warm, afternoon sun baking her filthy coat. She ran and ran and ran. It was a sight to see. She looked like she had a huge smile on her face.
Finally, after what seemed like forever, she slowed down and realized that the green stuff she was running on was a delicious pasture mix. Bu wasn’t really sure what to do at first, but once she stopped and started munching the green clover and grass, she had a look on her face like a kid in a candy store. We had to monitor her eating for a while, because she loved the pasture mixes so much, and even more than that, she loved alfalfa! Loved is an understatement. She devoured alfalfa like every bite was her last on this planet. We only let her have little bits of fresh alfalfa at a time, not only for her health, but also for the health of the pasture. She would have eaten the entire farm that first month or two if we had let her.
Bu was finally home. We had to separate her for a bit until the vet gave her a run-through to make sure that she didn’t have a cough or any sickness that might infect the rest of the herd. In the meantime, we gave her a bath and bought her a cowbell in anticipation of her moving in with the dry herd. She was going to live there so that her milk could dry up. It was really funny, Bu didn’t seem to mind her bath at all and she loved her cowbell. She acted like we were giving here a pearl necklace or something. She loved it, and more importantly, she was the only one on the entire farm with a cowbell. The other girls noticed it right away as we moved her into their pasture.
Bu became a herd leader and that “special cow” from the first day. She cleaned up well and was by far the most beautiful cow that any of us had ever seen. Bu had that “it” factor. She also had quite the personality right from the start. We would yell out “Bu!” in a high-pitched call from the fence-line and her head would pop up and she’d look over at us. She was looking to see if we had any treats. We took her treats. She loved carrot tops. She wouldn’t let any of the other cows near us, her humans, when we were giving her, her treats. It didn’t take long before Bu became a part of us and we became a part of her. Bu was the embodiment of Malibu Compost in a cow’s body. She became our spokescow. She became our family.
Bu passed away under a full moon on October 26th, in 2015. We’d moved her down to a gorgeous olive ranch near Santa Barbara when she was pregnant with Honey Bu, her first girl. She’d had Baby Bu, her first calf with us, right there in the pasture at Organic Pastures. Colum was there to witness his birth. She literally dropped him in the field, which is how they do it in nature. We named our Potting Soil Baby Bu, after Baby Bu, which is the name Colum gave to him. Bu also gave us BuBu out at Organic Pastures before we moved her south.
She had some complications with her pregnancy and birth with Honey Bu. Bu’s milk didn’t drop and Honey Bu had to be bottle-fed colostrum by our wonderful friends who allowed us to move Bu and her kids to Southern California. We were worried that Honey Bu wouldn’t make it, but she did. She’s an amazing and strong girl who has the same heart on her left flank that her mom had. Bu made it through to make sure that Honey Bu survived, but she was never the same after her birth. Bu would walk up onto the side of the mountain that looked over the Pacific Ocean and stare out to sea as the cool ocean breeze ran over her coat. We used to wonder what was going through her mind as she watched the tide move in and out.
When the tide finally went out on Bu, a giant piece of Malibu Compost passed with her. She was beautiful. She was the embodiment of elegance and strength befitting a spokescow. We all cried our eyes out as we buried her on the ranch that day. We took one side of the fence down so that all of her kids, Jenny the rescue donkey, and even the barn cat could all say their final goodbyes. And they all did. One by one, they came over and sniffed her gravesite and stood there until they were ready to move on. It was a funeral fit for a queen. And Bu, our spokescow and family member was a queen, a cow queen. The outpouring of love, both animal and human during Bu’s burial was amazing. As we smudged her gravesite with sage, two hawks floated in a circle above us… her spirit guides had arrived to take her to heaven.
We had over three thousand hits on our social media sites when we posted Bu’s obituary. Randy’s words had come true. Bu had changed people’s lives. She was one in a million. Bu made sure that she lives on with us forever by gracing us with her beautiful family; Baby Bu, BuBu and Honey Bu. We all consider ourselves blessed to have Bu’s children as our own.
But Bu’s story doesn’t end there. Her family grew again in October of 2016. Honey Bu got pregnant by one of the guys from the herd next door, and to the astonishment of all of us, she gave birth on the exact same day that Bu had passed one year earlier, the 26th. It was an auspicious occasion that only our girl Bu could muster up, and one that allowed us to celebrate her incredible life and passing in an even more wonderful and beautiful way. The Bu lineage lives on in Bu Moon Bu, her granddaughter. She was born in a pasture on the hillside and came out strong-willed and ready for this world, just like her grandmother.
To say that we are lucky is an understatement. Our lives would have been infinitely less without Bu. So you see… Bu did rescue us. Bu made all of us at Malibu Compost better. Better people. Better stewards of the planet. Better family. You might ask yourself how rescuing a cow could change your life this much. The answer is that we don’t really know for sure. Maybe it was fate. Or luck. Maybe it was us trying to do the right thing. Or, maybe it was an intervention from a higher power. The one thing that we do know, and that we can all absolutely agree on, is that this cow, our beloved Bu, changed all of our lives forever… and that friends, is The Story of Bu.
THE REST OF
It takes a lot of people to make a company go. It even takes more people to make it grow. We are so grateful and appreciative of all of the people who have partnered with Malibu Compost over the years to help us grow into the company that we’ve become. As with most things in life, the best things are those that are shared with others and that allow us to become stronger, better, and wiser.
All of these people and companies below have helped us in our growth as a company and have been instrumental in one way or another in getting our true organic and biodynamic line of products out to you, our cherished customers and community. We want all of you who read this to know that we didn’t do it alone. It is our co-packing and bag manufacturing partners, it is our dairy partners, it is our trucking partners, it is our sales and marketing partners, it is all of the stores that ever believed in us to bring us in, it is all of our friends and family who have supported us, it was every customer who ever bought a bag of compost or sleeve of compost tea, it was every friend on social media who ever said a kind word about Malibu Compost, and it is all of the following people who make Malibu Compost what it is today. Our heartfelt thanks to all of you!