More than 900 horses call Turfway Park home during the fall and winter live racing season. From 2006 until this year, 350 to 500 horses also were stabled at the Northern Kentucky track during the spring and summer. Turfway Park began exploring the idea of composting the horses’ manure and bedding straw in late 2008 and through March 2009 conducted tests to determine a suitable location and logistics of production. Testing began on three acres outside the barn area on track property in October 2009. The area was expanded to eight acres in the summer of 2010 and reconfigured to improve drainage and aeration. Production has been in full swing since then under the guidance of Troy Beach, Turfway’s compost operator. Decomposition from manure and straw, or muck, to compost takes about 10 weeks.
Beyond a few test applications, sales were withheld while the track sought Kentucky Department of Agriculture recognition of the compost as a Kentucky Proud product and U.S. Department of Agriculture designation of the compost as certified organic. Both approvals were achieved in 2010. Turfway is pursuing an even more specific and regulated designation for its compost so it can be sold as guaranteed analysis fertilizer, which includes testing for micro- and macronutrients.
Founded by auctioneer David Neville, Capstone Auction Services LLC does business as Capstone Produce Market. The public is welcome at Capstone both as buyers and consigners. The market operates year round, selling local hay, straw and firewood in the winter and local fruits, vegetables and bedding plants in the spring and summer. Turfway’s compost is currently available from Capstone only in bulk form.
“Our focus is Kentucky Proud,” said Neville. “We take local produce on consignment and sell it to local buyers. At grocery stores people pay for tomatoes that were picked green, chemically altered to produce a reddish color, and shipped thousands of miles. Through Capstone, a tomato grown in Kentucky dirt and enhanced with Kentucky compost can end up on a Kentucky supper table a few miles from where it was grown the very same day it was picked.”
The composting venture is profitable from several angles. Muck does not decompose in the anaerobic environment of a landfill. Through composting, about 75,000 cubic yards of muck is kept out of landfills while producing 6,000 to 8,000 cubic yards of finished product. Top quality compost, particularly certified organic, is highly valued by landscapers, gardeners and farmers. Additionally, the process both cuts expenses and offers a revenue stream to Turfway.
“We were spending nearly a quarter-million dollars a year to have the muck removed,” said Turfway’s director of operations Chip Bach. “Most of it went to mushroom farms in Pennsylvania, but we had to pay to have it hauled out of here. Now we not only save the cost of that transport but also have the potential to generate revenue.”