by Katherine O. Rizzo (first published in the April 2020 Equiery)

As the Maryland Horse Council continued to grow in its first decades of existence, its subcommittees also grew and in November 2011, MHC’s Farm Stewardship Committee was created.

Its initial goals included assisting horse farm owners in reaching their land stewardship goals through providing information, community support, and access to information on financing and other incentives.

In addition, the committee aimed to create more positive attention for horse farms in Maryland and bring the voice of the horse community into discussions of laws, regulations and incentive programs for agriculture and for the environment. “One of the important, untold stories of horse farms as part of

Maryland agriculture and environmental management,” says former MHC President, Jane Seigler, is that a well maintained horse pasture provides huge environmental benefits as both a natural filter for runoff into the bay, and a carbon sink. The MHC Farm Stewardship Committee has been an important voice in getting that message out.”

The Oxford English Dictionary defines “stewardship” as “the job of supervising or taking care of something, such as an organization or property.” Where MHC can be seen as stewards for the entire Maryland horse industry, the Farm Stewardship Committee became stewards specifically for horse farm owners.

Committee founder and chair Jane Thery stated, “healthy pastures are great for everyone and create a positive impact on the environment.” This concept of healthy pastures creating a healthy environment became the driving force behind the Committee.

Quarterly meetings were held throughout the state at farms that were already showing good stewardship practices such as Carolyn Krome’s Persimmon Tree Farm in Westminster and Robert Butts’ Waredaca in Laytonsville. “We held early meetings at both places as well as Hilltop and farms on the Eastern Shore,” Thery said.

At each meeting, the Committee would bring in experts on such topics as cost sharing, solar panels, pasture management and more. As state and county regulations changed, seminar topics changed too. “We help farmers keep up on the changing county codes and put them in touch with those that can help them adjust if needed,” Thery added.

Thery also maintains the Committee’s blog on MHC’s website where all information from meetings, and much more, are shared digitally to the community.

Action and Results
One of the first action plan items listed by the Committee was to increase the number of horse farms that are certified through the Farm Stewardship Certification and Assessment Program (FSCAP). Thery feels that the Committee’s biggest accomplishment thus far is increasing the FSCAP numbers dramatically.

“When I joined MHC, Persimmon Tree was the only horse farm in the program,” Thery stated. “Now, there are 32 horse farms protecting 3,363.6 acres in 11 counties. That’s all due to this Committee’s efforts.”

Another action plan item was to link horse farm owners and managers to public and private resources available to upgrade their farm stewardship practices. Due to Thery’s and the Committee’s efforts, more horse farm owners are aware of and use the county Soil Conservation Districts. “We were able to tap into the interests of horse farm owners to be more environmentally aware. It was there, we just helped to mobilize it,” Thery added.

The Committee has also helped put farm owners in touch with the University of Maryland’s various programs. UMD offers pasture rotation seminars as well as information on how to build proper dry lots and create better manure management practices.

In addition, Thery says that bridging the gaps between farmers and environmental groups has been a big part of the Committee. “We’ve been able to cross boundaries and form positive relationships with organizations such as the Chesapeake Bay Foundation,” she said, adding, “Pastures are great filters for the environment.”

The Next 35 Years
As MHC heads into its next 35 years, Thery has a few goals in mind for the Farm Stewardship Committee and top on the list is a new Green Ribbon Farm Stewardship Recognition Initiative. In short, the program would celebrate horse farms within the state that maintain good stewardship practices. Details are still in the works and will be posted on MHC’s Farm Stewardship Committee page soon.

Second on Thery’s new list of Committee goals is to assist horse farm owners in being a part of the State’s Water Implementation Program (WIP3). Each county has different line items related to “horse pasture management” with a 2025 goal of reducing nitrogen production. “Having farms be champions of the WIP3 program is very important,” Thery stated.

Manure management is still on the action plan list for the Committee, as with horses, it is the one common item that all horse farms have! “In general, we all need to be better aware of how to manage manure,” Thery said. She sees a need to be able to educate people one on one of what will work best for their individual farms.

One way to accomplish these goals is to create a volunteer network that could go from farm to farm in various regions to help with the actual work needed to bring farms up to better stewardship practices.
Ultimately, Thery says the Committee continues to address the need to change the public image of what horse farms are. “These aren’t just a bunch of rich people riding horses,” she said, “they care about their land and want to protect it.”