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Woman’s life goes from manure to manure Written by MARTHA GROVES, Los Angeles Times

Former screenwriter, recovering pill-popping alcoholic rescues Holstein headed to slaughter to help create unusual biodynamic compost


FRESNO - Denise Ritchie scratches holes into a pile of cow manure to make room for the herbs that will create her unusual brand of fertilizer.

Once dried and infused with chamomile, stinging nettle and yarrow, the mixture will be bagged and sold as Bu’s Blend Biodynamic Compost. Each package features an illustration of a Holstein surfing near Malibu Pier. That’s Bu, the formerly scrawny dairy cow Ritchie and her husband rescued as she was about to “go to beef.”

“You’re healing your soil with this stuff,” says Sarah Spitz, a KCRW producer and a graduate of the Los Angeles County master gardener program.

It’s also healing Ritchie’s soul.

The former screenwriter thinks her Malibu Compost business can save thousands of cows doomed to die in slaughterhouses—and maybe help some careworn dairy farmers in the process. It’s an ambitious goal for a woman who spent years just trying to save herself, a pill-popping alcoholic who in 1989 stared down her 19-year-old son’s murderer in a Los Angeles courtroom and said she had been “sentenced to a lifetime of pain.”

Ritchie quips that her life has gone from manure to manure. Only she doesn’t use the word “manure.”

Empty-nest child

Ritchie, 59, grew up as Denise deGarmo in Santa Monica and Pacific Palisades, far from the Fresno pasture where Bu resides.

Bu “is our empty-nest child,” Ritchie said with a throaty laugh. The Holstein is the symbol of Malibu Compost, complete with her own blog. Her cardboard likeness, in full dress tail, appeared at a Los Angeles screening of “Dirt,” a film about the world’s soil and its loss through deforestation, war and industrial farming.