By Mary Jo Harrod
Division of Compliance Assistance
David Neville is a man of many hats, too many hats he says jokingly – cattleman, organic farmer, environmentalist, U.S. veteran and inventor.
Neville, who owns the 258-acre Capstone Farm in Henry County, says his three real stewardships in life are to the land, to livestock and to people.
“I want to make a real farming impact here,” said Neville. “Show people what a real Kentucky cowboy can do.”
Neville first gained notoriety as the first KY EXCEL Farm Program Member for his work in 2016 with 52 Kiko/Savannah cross goats in brush control on his farm. KY EXCEL is the Department for Environmental Protection’s environmental excellence program. It recognizes the voluntary environmental improvement projects of both the regulated and non-regulated communities in Kentucky. Last year, the program decided to add a new membership category for farms, and KY EXCEL Farm Program was born.
Looking for weed and brush control around his fence rows, Neville decided to put his always-hungry goats to work after weighing the environmental and financial cost of pesticides.
“Wild cherry is a nemesis to farmers,” said Neville. “A mouthful of a wild cherry plant that is wilted will kill a large cow. Since goats eat these and other toxic and invasive plants, the need for pesticides is eliminated.”
Goats also enjoying munching on other plants that farmers try to remove from their land such as bush honeysuckle, poison ivy, poison oak, wild rosebushes and kudzu. Neville said when the goats begin to eat small cedar trees, their least favorite food, he knows they have eaten the toxic and invasive plants and are ready to move to another field.
After three years of using no pesticides and goats, Neville’s farms were certified USDA organic. “It is quite a process to become USDA certified organic,” said Neville. “This was years in the making.”
Besides raising beef, goats and growing organic hay in Henry and Shelby counties, Neville and his Capstone Produce Market also offer organic pastures for rental to dairy farmers and is taking on the hot dog industry in Kentucky with an alternative wiener that is finding purchase in the Commonwealth.
Known as Kentucky Dawgs, these dogs debuted at the 2016 Kentucky State Fair and have taken off since then. Renowned for their basis of removing junk filler and replacing it with hemp extracts, these dogs are now in over 50 Kroger’s across the state are making their way into state schools, and even across the U.S. High in protein and low in sodium, these healthy wieners are filled with amino acids and Omega 3’s, 6’s and 9’s. The hemp gives the dogs a nutty flavor and a much better consistency than a normal dog, which is made mostly from scrap meat.
“When I was in the service, I spent some time in Germany and learned to eat good food there,” Neville said. “When it was time to go, I wanted to bring it home with me. With the Hemp Dawgs, they are comparable to a good German beef sausage.”
“If you go to the Capital Annex, the Transportation Cafeteria or even the Cafeteria at the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, you might of eaten one of my Hemp Dawgs,” said Neville. “That’s real Kentucky Proud for you.”
For this year’s KY EXCEL project, Neville plans on working with Steve Higgins, Director of Environmental Compliance for the Agricultural Experiment Station with the University of Kentucky. Together they plan to analyze ways that his cattle operation can run more smoothly, in harmony with the environment and in ways that benefit the both the consumer and the land.
“I had been doing all these things to my farms anyway to be organic and for them to be the best they can be,” said Neville. “When I met some people with KY EXCEL, it seemed like I might as well reap the benefits.”
KY EXCEL Farm seeks to recognize farms that go above and beyond to help protect, maintain and enhance the Commonwealth’s environment, while providing food to tables across the state.
The program is working to recruit more farms in order to have a robust networking and mentoring community that will encourage other farm operations to adopt practices that will protect and enhance the environment. Currently, there are only four members. These include Capstone Farms, Thomson Ag, Kentucky Beef Network and Warren Beeler.
“One of the best things I definitely get out of being part of the program is the publicity and the networking I can do with others who are interested in the same things I am,” said Neville. “And that’s a lot.”
Photos from top to bottom: David Neville poses with one of the students that attends a school that eats his Kentucky Dawgs.
Some of Neville’s Kiko/Savannah cross goats and his working dog work a pasture to clear it from weeds and invasive plants.
Neville’s beef cattle line the fence row on his Henry Co. farm.
Neville poses with Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles.
Photos courtesy of David Neville.