Meet Busy Shires, our Director of Conservation Strategies

Busy Shires is a land conservation professional with 21 years’ experience facilitating land conservation projects. Her goal is to work with landowners, agencies, and land trust partners to protect farmlands for future generations. Busy’s family owns and operates Gold Leaf Farm in Alachua, FL.

Busy is happy to discuss the various land conservation options available to you. Reach out to her by emailing busy.shires@horsefarmsforever.com or calling 386-853-4437.

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Just What Is The Farmland Preservation Area?

Marion County is home to nearly 4,000 farms including over 1,200 horse farms. Most of these horse farms are in the Farmland Preservation Area.

Of Marion County’s 1 million acres of land, the Farmland Preservation Area (FPA) encompasses just under 200,000 acres in the northwest portion of the county. While called a Preservation Area, it is not a preserve. The land is not protected from development and subdivision entirely, but there are restrictions that favor farmland preservation and natural resource conservation.

The boundaries of the FPA, and the rules that govern it, are at the discretion of the Board of County Commissioners. While all five current Commissioners are strong supporters of the FPA, as development pressure increases, additional tools are available to help protect the rural character and preserve compatible uses in the FPA.

The tools that provide permanent protection for the FPA are in the hands of private landowners. Learn more here.

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State of the County Report Focused on the Growing Economy and Tourism

Over the summer, Marion County is presenting the State of the County report. The first presentation was held on Friday, July 8 at the Circle Square Cultural Center. Horse Farms Forever attended to be on the lookout about any potential projects that may affect horse farms, primarily in the Farmland Preservation Area (FPA). Three additional presentations are planned throughout Marion County.

County Commission Chairman Carl Zalak, III, presented the report along with fellow County Commissioners and staff.

Highlights included the state of the economy, future improvements to transportation systems, a countywide broadband research study, and improvements to public services such as law enforcement, fire rescue, animal services, and Blue Run Park.

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Horse Farms Forever Celebrates Four Years of Big Wins for the Farmland Preservation Area

On Friday May 20, Horse Farms Forever® (HFF) held our annual Spring Speaker Series at the College of Central Florida’s Vintage Farm. It was an intimate event for our members, guests and other large farm owners to continue the conversation about conservation. We celebrated the organization’s fourth birthday and reflected on the growth and success under the leadership of outgoing Executive Director Sara Powell Fennessy.

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Horse Farms Forever® Amends the Comprehensive Plan

Horse Farms Forever® is excited to announce a recent victory for the Farmland Preservation Area! On April 30, a large-scale Text Amendment to the Future Land Use Element was successfully adopted as part of Marion County’s Comprehensive Plan. This Amendment helps protect the Farmland Preservation Area from incompatible Zoning Requests and Special Use Permits.

We worked diligently for over a year with community leaders, major land owners, developers, and other stakeholders to seek support for the Amendment to strengthen Future Land Use Objective 3.3 – Farmland Preservation Area. After 14 months, these efforts paid-off when the Growth Services staff recommended approval of the Amendment, the Planning and Zoning Commissioners voted unanimously for approval, and finally the County Commissioners voted unanimously at the two public hearings to approve the Amendment.

The County’s Comprehensive Plan is similar to a company’s Mission Statement in that it lays out Goals, Objectives and Policies to provide a vision for sustainable urban, suburban and rural growth that supports a transportation network, a variety of land uses, natural and agricultural resources, and open space.

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The Little Acorn That Started It All

When Horse Farms Forever Founder, Mary Jane Hunt, was seeking a one-of-a-kind award design for the Acorn Conservation Award, she sought the help of Adam Warner from Mountain Trails Gallery in her summer hometown of Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Warner connected Hunt with Durango, Colorado, wildlife bronze sculptor, Bryce Pettit. Both Warner and Pettit were moved by the mission of Horse Farms Forever, and happily accepted the project, graciously donating a portion of their services.

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Proactive Planning to Save Farmland

It’s a familiar and sad chain of events when farmland is lost- growth leads to unplanned development which leads to sprawl. Without intention, open spaces and beautiful places shrink away and the character of a community is changed beyond recognition. Matt Varney comes from a family of real estate developers, and he’s passionate about farmland preservation. Together with Rob and Chris Desino, they operate Ocala Horse Properties – representing the largest portfolio of horse properties in the world. Ocala Horse Properties has been a steadfast ally in forwarding our mission, right from the beginning. Varney and the Desinos are all Founding Members, and Ocala Horse Properties is a Corporate Founder and Gold Sponsor of this year’s Conservation Summit.

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Naturally Healthy Ocala

The great explorer and forest conservation advocate, John Muir, said

“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.”

Like Muir, we recognize the instinctive connection between beautiful landscapes and healthy healing. 

We are honored to have AdventHealth Ocala as a Charter Member and Gold Sponsor of our Conservation Summit – happening in just a week on November 23. AdventHealth Marketing Manager, Natalie McComb, echoes the sentiments of John Muir as she explains why it is so important for Marion County to have conversations about conservation:

“As healthcare providers, we know that experiencing nature can be a powerful tool in the healing process. Our environment can also greatly impact our health and quality of life. AdventHealth Ocala is excited to support this year’s Horse Farms Forever Conservation Summit.”

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Ensuring Marion County’s Tomorrow

The Rudnianyns are landowners, philanthropists, and real estate developers here in Marion County. Todd Rudnianyn recently aligned his business, Neighborhood Storage, with Horse Farms Forever as a Charter Member and Gold Sponsor of our Conservation Summit, coming right up on November 23. Rudnianyn is a Marion county native. He is fluent in English, Korean, and Spanish. We thank Neighborhood Storage for their support of our mission, and Todd Rudnianyn for being so kind to engage with us in a conversation about conservation.

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