April President’s Letter

by Kimberly K. Egan, MHC President (first published in the April 2024 Equiery)

This month’s issue is our annual farm fix-up and Earth Day issue. Every year we encourage horse farmers to avail themselves of our county Soil Conservation Districts (SCDs) and our Equine Studies Program at the University of Maryland, and every year we offer tips about fixing up your farm.

We also like to remind our readers that horse farmers in Maryland are part of an ecological network that goes back millennia; farm stewardship is as old as agriculture itself. The Old Testament exhorts us to take greater care of creation: “It is not enough for you to feed on the good pasture, but you must tread down with your feet the rest of your pasture? When you drink of clear water, must you foul the rest with your feet?” Ezekiel 34:18 (King James Version). The Torah instructs farmers to leave buffers around fields – “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field to its very border, neither shall you gather the gleanings after the harvest. (Lev 19:9-10) (quoted by Pope Francis in Laudato Si).

In Maryland, spring is often a time of heavy rain, and a primary goal of farm stewardship in Maryland is to protect the Chesapeake Bay from stormwater runoff. This is another connection between Maryland horse farmers and ancient global traditions. Almost every world faith has a creation story based in water. The Qu’ran teaches that God “made every living thing from water.” Water is a life giver in Buddhism; water is the basis of daily religious rituals in Hinduism; the biblical story of Genesis begins with God hovering over the waters. Oceanus was the father of all the gods in ancient Greece. Fresh water is one of the first gods (Apsu) in the Babylonian creation myth. Closer to home, the creation story of the Algonquin peoples begins with a world made entirely of water.

Horse farm stewardship is important. As Pope Francis said in his October 2023 encyclical on climate change, “a healthy ecology is …. the result of interaction between human beings and the environment, as occurs in the indigenous cultures and has occurred for centuries in different regions of the earth.” (Laudato Dei at 27.) The indigenous peoples of North American practiced rotational farming in the Eastern Woodlands. One of the United States’ earliest soil conservationists was Thomas Jefferson, who knew that erosion washed his valuable farm land down river and understood the value of cover crops, green dressings, and manure recycling.

Even our most common pasture grasses for horses are ancient. Alfalfa originated in modern day Iran and Turkey. Timothy grass comes from northern Eurasia. Kentucky blue grass originated in England. Clover was used as livestock forage by the Saxons as far back as 800 AD. Tall fescue, orchard grass, and perennial ryegrass are native to most of Eurasia, from Siberia to North Africa. Smooth bromegrass comes to us from the high plains of Hungary.

As Marylanders generally and horse farmers specifically, we live by Masanobu Fukuoka’s creed in the One-Straw Revolution, his 1975 guide to natural farming: “Serve nature and all is well.”

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