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Just What IS The Farmland Preservation Area?

Just What IS The Farmland Preservation Area?

Photo by Elma Garcia Cannavino.

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 the FPA is called a preservation area, it’s not protected in the same way government owned lands like the Ocala National Forest are protected. The Comprehensive Plan and Land Development Regulations are guidelines that define rural character and establish compatible uses in the FPA, but they do not prevent subdivision of land or stop development that is deemed compatible by the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC).

The boundaries of the FPA, and the rules that govern it, are at the discretion of the BOCC. 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.

Preservation and growth have to coexist strategically or neither succeeds. The tools that provide permanent protection for the FPA are in the hands of private landowners.

Conservation County

Marion County is one of the largest geographic counties in Florida. In round numbers, it covers over 1 million acres.  About forty-percent of this acreage is protected from development.

For example, the Marion County portion of the Ocala National Forest covers about 320,000 acres and is owned by the US Forest Service. Established in 1908, it is the oldest national forest east of the Mississippi River and the southernmost national forest in the continental US. While it is a national forest, there are private and government in-holdings inside its boundaries.

Another example of protected land is Silver Springs State Park, which covers about 4,000 acres and contains one of the largest artesian springs ever discovered. It is owned by the State and managed by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, which oversees 175 state parks, trails and historic sites as part of the Florida State Parks system. In the City of Ocala, an example of protected land is the Fort King National Historic Landmark, which covers about 40 acres and is jointly owned by the City and County.

Of Marion County’s 1 million acres, the Farmland Preservation Area encompasses just under 200,000 acres in the northwest portion of the county. By comparison, the Urban Growth Area is about 125,000 acres, not including the City of OcalaThe remaining 400,000 acres is a patchwork of rural lands and municipalities such as The Villages, Dunnellon and Belleview, and towns, like McIntosh and Reddick.

The Farmland Preservation Area is designated by the red line, the Urban Growth Boundary by the blue line, Public Conservation lands are in green, and the orange areas are privately owned lands that have been conserved with Marion County’s Transfer of Development Rights program with a conservation easement.

The Farmland Preservation Area Is Born

In 2004, the County adopted several amendments to the Future Land Use Element to create the Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) program to protect farmland and other natural resources. Then, in 2005, the Farmland Preservation Area (FPA) was created by the County to serve as the sending area for the TDR program.

There are three main elements to help preserve farms in Marion County:

  1. a designated boundary on the County’s Future Land Use Map for the FPA,
  2. Objective 3.3 in the Comprehensive Plan that defines compatible rural uses in the FPA, and
  3. a voluntary Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) program to incentivize landowners to protect their land with a conservation easement.

The first two elements, the boundaries of the FPA and the policies that govern it, are at the discretion of the BOCC. The third element, the Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) program, lies in the hands of private landowners. The TDR program is what makes the FPA a true Preservation Area, but it requires private landowners to participate in the program.

How does the Farmland Preservation Area (FPA) protect land?

While the FPA is called a preservation area, it’s not protected in the same way that government lands like the Ocala National Forest are protected. The Comprehensive Plan and Land Development Regulations are guidelines that define rural character and establish compatible uses in the FPA, but they do not prevent subdivision of land or stop development that is deemed compatible by the Board of County Commissioners.

The FPA boundary is a line drawn on the County’s Future Land Use Map and is described in Objective 3.3 of the Comprehensive Plan as “intended to encourage preservation of agriculture as a viable use of lands and an asset of Marion County’s economy and to protect the rural character of the area.”

Policy 3.3.1 defines the Elements of Rural Character: “The County shall preserve and protect rural and equestrian/agricultural character within the Rural Lands, specifically the Farmland Preservation Area, by requiring that all appropriate future development activities within this Area preserve, support, and enhance the fundamental elements of rural character, set forth below, and further requiring that all Zoning Changes and Special Use Permits within the Farmland Preservation Area be consistent with and preserve, protect, support, and enhance the rural, equestrian, and farmland character of the Farmland Preservation Area.”

The Horse Farms Forever® Text Amendment, which became effective on April 30, 2022, enhanced the definition of Rural Character shown above in bold italics by further requiring that all Zoning Changes and Special Use Permits within the FPA be consistent with and preserve, protect and support and enhance the rural, equestrian, and farmland character of the FPA.

TDR Sending Areas

In 2005, the boundary of the Farmland Preservation Area was designated as the original “sending area” for the TDR program, but after the initial designation, this area was extended beyond the FPA boundaries. The sending area site must be 30 acres or more of contiguous land and either located within the designated FPA or have attributes listed in Policy 1.1.2 of the Conservation Element of the Marion County Comprehensive Plan, which include locally significant natural resources, such as certain types of soil, water and vegetation.

 

HFF will be holding our Third Annual Conservation Summit this fall on Tuesday, November 22, at the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Arena. The theme will be Transportation. We will release further details as the event nears. Please mark your calendar and join us as we continue this very important conversation to help protect what we love most about Marion County – the open spaces and beautiful places.

Questions About Conservation?

Contact Busy Shires, our Director of Conservation Strategies, by email or by phone 386-853-4437.

Always Watching

We work hard to keep you informed, and to represent our members' interests in preserving our horse farms, farmland and the unique character and culture of Marion County's 193,000 acre Farmland Preservation Area.

Join the herd. Every voice matters.

TDR Receiving Areas

The “receiving area” is designated on the Future Land Use Map, Transfer of Rights, with the majority of the receiving areas located within the Urban Growth Boundary. The Transferrable Development Credits may be transferred to and used on lands identified on the Transfer of Rights Map.

Transferrable Development Credits (TDC) Have Potential Value

If landowners choose to participate in the TDR program, the BOCC must approve the agreement; then the landowner records a conservation easement on the property and receives the TDCs. To help incentivize participation, the County increased the TDCs to one credit per every acre of sending area land preserved in 2007.

Thus, if a private property in the sending area meets the requirements of the TDR program, in exchange for placing a conservation easement on their property, the landowner receives TDCs that can be sold or utilized.

When the TDR program was adopted, the County set a goal of placing conservation easements on 5,000 acres by 2015. As of today, the TDR program protects about 3,200 acres of land.

One of the properties protected by the County’s TDR program is owned by Dick and Sharon Sawallis. In 2007, they voluntarily protected 93 acres of their land, which is part of the scenic view shed of the Orange Lake Overlook on U.S. 441 just south of the Town of McIntosh.

 “It’s a gorgeous view when the sun comes up, or the sun goes down over that lake. That’s what I want to preserve and not look at a bunch of houses,” Sharon Sawallis said in the Ocala Star Banner article.

Photo by Sean Dowie

Conservation Easements Protect Land from Development

Due to the exponential growth in Marion County, development pressure to subdivide farms in the FPA and alter the FPA boundaries will continue. And because the land located in the FPA is privately owned, landowners have the right to subdivide their land, as permitted in the Comprehensive Plan and Land Development Regulations, or approved by the Board of County Commissioners.

Marion County’s TDR program is a good start. The program has protected about 3,200 acres of land in the FPA with conservation easements. Conservation easements are an essential step to protect land from development. In order to truly protect horse farms and other agricultural land in the FPA, the solution is voluntary conservation easements. When a landowner places a conservation easement on their property, they decide the future of their property rather than the government or elected officials.

A conservation easement is a voluntary, legally binding agreement between a landowner and a qualified organization, such as a land trust or government entity, that permanently limits uses of the land to protect agricultural, ecological, or other natural and historic resources.

Landowners have rights to their land, such as the ability to subdivide, build homes and barns, cut trees, mine for minerals, and other rights. A conservation easement allows a landowner to retain private ownership while restricting some of those rights to protect the property’s conservation values and preserve the agricultural uses. The easement document will identify the rights that the landowner wishes to retain, limit or forgo. Easements are custom-designed to meet the personal and financial needs of the landowner. An easement may cover portions of a property or the entire parcel. The property remains a private holding and is only open to the public at the owner’s discretion.

Conservation easements can provide peace of mind by protecting land in perpetuity, regardless of who owns it in the future. HFF is happy to help facilitate this conversation and provide resources to interested landowners.

Inspiring Conservation

It is the vision and mission of Horse Farms Forever to inspire conservation of horse farms through education, awareness and idea exchange so as to preserve natural pasture land focusing on horses and their habitats, to protect soil and water on which they depend, and minimize land use conflicts in Marion County.

Horses, horse farms and the horse industry create the character and culture that define Marion County. The aim of Horse Farms Forever is to raise awareness and education to ensure that this sense of place is protected for future generations.

The purpose of Horse Farms Forever is to be watchful of government and others in actions pertaining to the character and culture that horses and the Farmland Preservation Area make unique to Marion County. That includes strategies to preserve horse farms and pastureland, especially in the Farmland Preservation Area, for future generations.

We hope you will join Horse Farms Forever and support our mission. 

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

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.

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.

Commissioner Zalak focused on the growing economy and tourism. In 2010, there was a 14.4 percent unemployment rate. “Times were tough,” he said. However, with the County’s focus to grow the economy over the past 10 years, the unemployment rate is now about 2.8%.

Balancing growth is important to the County, while also growing the economy. Approximately two-thirds of the County is protected from urban development between the Farmland Preservation Area and the Ocala National Forest.

The County’s tourism industry is also growing with the opening of the World Equestrian Center and the FAST Aquatic Center.

“Great venues like the World Equestrian Center have made Marion County as a destination on an international stage,” said Commissioner Zalak.

Marion County is also becoming a logistics hub due to its central location in the state and I-75. The tax revenue from the buildings helps keep the County’s property tax rates low.

Commissioner Zalak also reported that Marion County is being considered as an ideal location to site a 120-bed Veterans’ Nursing Home; funded through the Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs (FDVA) and the U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs. The County is home to more than 45,000 veterans. About 650,000 veterans live within a 75-mile radius of the site.

Commissioner Curry presented a summary of the County’s Litter Task Force to help change the mindset of people negatively impacting our community and scenic roadways. The task force is tasked with coming up with a plan that the community can implement. The County spends over $900,000 picking up litter every year and nearly 84 percent is thrown intentionally.

“We are better than this,” said Commissioner Curry.

Commissioner Michelle Stone presented an update on affordable housing and the Commitment to Zero plan to help improve transportation safety.

Commissioners Jeff Gold and Kathy Bryant also presented summaries on fire rescue and law enforcement infrastructure improvements, and the County’s $2.5M in park improvements at Blue Run Park near Dunnellon.

 

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

Broadband Feasibility Study

Commissioner Michelle Stone also presented the Broadband Feasibility Study to research the need for high speed internet county wide. The County is partnering with Televate to conduct the study, which will help determine where new or improved broadband services are needed. The County is also partnering with the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) for the Broadband Speed Test to help develop Florida’s Broadband Availability Map.

For the Broadband Survey, there is an eCheckup to share what type of internet service residents currently have. For the Broadband Speed Test, the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) has a link to take an internet speed test.

Attend a Presentation

Three more presentations of the State of the County are planned:

  • Wednesday, July 27 at 7 pm, Salt Springs, VFW
  • Tuesday, August 9 at 1 pm, Del Webb Spruce Creek, Ballroom (Only open to Spruce Creek residents.)
  • Thursday, August 18 at 7 pm, The Villages, Mulberry Grove Recreation Center

It is the vision and mission of Horse Farms Forever to inspire conservation of horse farms through education, awareness and idea exchange so as to preserve natural pasture land focusing on horses and their habitats, to protect soil and water on which they depend, and minimize land use conflicts
in Marion County, Florida.

We are watchful of government and others to preserve and protect horse farms and farmland for future generations - especially in the Farmland Preservation Area. We are neither anti-growth nor anti-development; we encourage urban growth to remain inside the Urban Growth Boundary.

Horse Farms Forever® is a Florida not-for-profit corporation registered with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services as a charitable organization and approved as a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) corporation by the Internal Revenue Service. Horse Farms Forever® does not have a political mission. Our status as a 501(c)(3) charitable organization does not allow us to participate or intervene in political activities. The organization will neither advocate on behalf of political candidates nor advocate for the passage of legislation.

 

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

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

Spring Speaker Series at Vintage Farm

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.

“I am so incredibly proud to have played a role in growing Horse Farms Forever into all that it has become,” said Fennessy. “It is hard to believe how far we’ve come in such a short period of time and the mountains we have climbed along the way. My love, dedication, and passion for Horse Farms Forever will live on. I whole-heartedly believe in all that Horse Farms Forever is and will always be its biggest fan and advocate.”

We also welcomed Emily Holmes as our new Executive Director. Emily brings a wealth of experience as the former Events Coordinator and Director of Events at the Florida Horse Park. Holmes is also a freelance organizer of USEA/USEF Horse Trials and FEI Eventing competitions across the country and has her USEF “r” Eventing Technical Delegate’s license. Emily lives in Williston where she operates Five Hound Farm, a sport horse breeding and boarding operation on fifty acres.

“At 12 years old on a vacation from Maine with my aunt, I fell in love with Marion County – the incredible horse farms, the miles of fencing, the wide-open pastures, and the majestic oak trees,” said Holmes. “I welcome the opportunity to work with the dedicated Board of Directors, and everyone involved to preserve the character and culture of the Horse Capital of the World®.”

Importance of the Horse Farms Forever® Amendment

The recent conservation victory for the Farmland Preservation Area was highlighted by HFF Director of Conservation Strategies, Busy Shires.

“We are also here tonight to celebrate a big win for the Farmland Preservation Area,” said Shires. “Horse Farms Forever has amended Marion County’s Comprehensive Plan with a Text Amendment to enhance the definition of Rural Character and add further protections to the Farmland Preservation Area by requiring all applications for Zoning Requests and Special Use Permits be consistent with the character of the Farmland Preservation Area.”


Sara Powell Fennessy, outgoing Executive Director, accepts flowers and a plaque as a thank you. Bernie Little, HFF President of the Board (R); Busy Shires, HFF Director of Conservation Strategies and Emily Holmes, HFF Executive Director (L).

Billy Van Pelt II, Director of Special Program Development and Senior Advisor, American Farmland Trust, Busy Shires, HFF Director of Conservation Strategies, Emily Holmes, HFF Executive Director, and Bernie Little, HFF President of the Board


 Nick de Meric, with his wife, Jacqui and daughter, Alexandra (L) and HFF Executive Director, Emily Holmes on the right.

Billy Van Pelt II, County Commissioner Michelle Stone, and Chester Weber.

photo Sean Dowie

Dawn Vigne, General Manager of Bridlewood Farm George Isaacs, and Chuck Vigne.

photo Sean Dowie

Jimmy and Hannah Goodwin and their son Wills.

photo Sean Dowie

Gorgeous decor courtesy of Lugano Diamonds.

photo Sean Dowie

Co Owner of Grandview Clydesdales, Karen Cobb (L) with Sara Powell Fennessy and Accounts Manager of Seminole Feeds, Charley Ragland (R).

photo Sean Dowie

Ocala Mayor Kent Guinn, County Commissioner Carl Zalak and his wife, Ann Zalak.

photo Sean Dowie

Hugh and Valerie Dailey, Owners of Showcase Properties, and Jason Reynolds, Executive Director of the Florida Horse Park.

photo Sean Dowie

Added sparkle.

photo Sean Dowie

Michael and Tasha Osbourne and Ann Zalak

photo Sean Dowie

County Commissioner Craig Curry and his wife, Carol.

photo Sean Dowie

Pauline and Gary Hartogh, with Suzanne Cantrell (R).

photo Sean Dowie

White diamond ring and bracelets by Lugano.

photo Sean Dowie

Private Landowners Hold The Key

Billy Van Pelt II, Director of Special Program Development and Senior Advisor at the American Farmland Trust, was our featured speaker for the evening. Van Pelt highlighted the importance of good planning through Marion County’s Comprehensive Plan, but he also emphasized the important role that private landowner’s play in conserving farms to help ensure the future of the equine industry.

Some of the reasons why landowners conserve their land include:

For Farmers & Ranchers

  • Fulfillment of personal conservation goals/peace of mind.
  • Provides capital farmers can reinvest in their operations.
  • Lower land values; creates opportunities for access and affordability.

For Communities

  • Slows the path of development and ensures land is permanently available for agriculture.
  • Protected farmland supports local economies.
  • Protects other important natural resources and maintains rural/agrarian character.

Set A Goal

Van Pelt suggested as a next step, that Marion County consider adopting a goal of conserved acreage in the Farmland Preservation Area. This will give planners a goal to work towards and will also help guide development to appropriate areas within the Urban Growth Boundary.

To close out the gathering, HFF Board Member Nick de Meric of de Meric Stables shared his heartfelt and inspiring tribute titled Reflections of an Ocala Horseman.

Our presenting sponsor, Lugano Diamonds, brought a distinctive glow to the event with a stunning display of diamonds and jewels. We thank them for their continued support of Horse Farms Forever.

It is the vision and mission of Horse Farms Forever to inspire conservation of horse farms through education, awareness and idea exchange so as to preserve natural pasture land focusing on horses and their habitats, to protect soil and water on which they depend, and minimize land use conflicts
in Marion County, Florida.

We are watchful of government and others to preserve and protect horse farms and farmland for future generations - especially in the Farmland Preservation Area. We are neither anti-growth nor anti-development; we encourage urban growth to remain inside the Urban Growth Boundary.

Horse Farms Forever® is a Florida not-for-profit corporation registered with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services as a charitable organization and approved as a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) corporation by the Internal Revenue Service. Horse Farms Forever® does not have a political mission. Our status as a 501(c)(3) charitable organization does not allow us to participate or intervene in political activities. The organization will neither advocate on behalf of political candidates nor advocate for the passage of legislation.

 

Horse Farms Forever® Amends the Comprehensive Plan

Horse Farms Forever® Amends the Comprehensive Plan

A Victory for the Farmland Preservation Area!

THE HORSE FARMS FOREVER® AMENDMENT

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.

In the Comprehensive Plan, Objective 3.3 establishes the Farmland Preservation Area. Policy 3.3.1 defines the Elements of Rural Character.

The Horse Farms Forever® Amendment enhances the definition of Rural Character and further requires that all applications for Zoning Requests and Special Use Permits “be consistent with and preserve, protect and support and enhance the rural, equestrian, and farmland character of the Farmland Preservation Area.”

Throughout this year-long process, HFF worked closely with the Growth Services and County Administration departments to develop a Text Amendment that would help protect the Farmland Preservation Area and also be compatible with the existing language and guidelines in the Comprehensive Plan. We especially thank County Commissioner Michelle Stone and County Administrator Mounir Bouyounes for their leadership and guidance through this year-long process.

“This amendment is important because a Special Use Permit is requested when the proposed land use doesn’t meet the guidelines in the Comprehensive Plan. It will have a positive effect on the Farmland Preservation Area. This is the hard work of real land conservation and where the rubber meets the road.”
Busy Shires

Director of Conservation Strategies, Horse Farms Forever

Why Amend The Comprehensive Plan?

If you live near Flemington in the Farmland Preservation Area, you may remember the ATV racetrack and drag strip that was proposed during the summer of 2020.

Horse Farms Forever® opposed the Special Use Permit for the ATV racetrack and drag strip, and launched a strategic outreach campaign to oppose the Special Use Permit as incompatible with the Comprehensive Plan Objective 3.3 – Farmland Preservation Area.

Objective 3.3 reads: The Farmland Preservation Area is intended to encourage preservation of agriculture as a viable use of lands and an asset of Marion County’s economy and to protect the rural character of the area. Planning principles within this area are designed to protect significant natural resources, including prime farmland and locally important soils as defined by the United States Department of Agriculture and unique karst geology that provides high recharge to the Floridan Aquifer, a key source of freshwater for central Florida. The County establishes this area as critical to the enhancement and preservation of its designation as the Horse Capital of the World.

We were surprised and disappointed when at the meeting for the Planning and Zoning Commission, the Growth Services Director recommended approval of the Special Use Permit. Thankfully, our outreach campaign paid-off when the Planning and Zoning Commissioners and the County Commissioners both voted to deny the Special Use Permit.

After the votes, the Horse Farms Forever® leadership met the Growth Services leadership to better understand why they recommended approval. It was out of that meeting that the campaign to amend Objective 3.3 of the Comprehensive Plan began.

What Is A Comprehensive Plan?

Every City and County in Florida is required to adopt and maintain a local Comprehensive Plan, which must also be consistent with the state and regional plans. These plans help guide growth and development to appropriate areas while also protecting public health and safety as well as natural resources.

The Introduction of Marion County’s Comprehensive Plan states:

The Marion County Future Land Use Element Goals, Objectives and Policies are designed to provide a comprehensive, area-wide vision for sustainable urban, suburban and rural growth that supports a transportation network, variety of land uses, natural and agricultural resources, and open space.”

The Land Development Code is a separate document with specific guidelines to implement the Goals, Objectives, and Policies of the Comprehensive Plan.

 

How To Amend The Comprehensive Plan

A comprehensive plan can be changed and updated over time. In fact, in Florida, there is a requirement for each municipality to update the plan every five to seven years through the Evaluation and Appraisal Report (EAR) process.

The ability to amend the comprehensive plan is not limited to municipalities.

Any resident, business owner, or organization can submit a request to amend the comprehensive plan, but the Board of County Commissioners makes the final decision to adopt the amendment. However, the process to submit a request is lengthy and costly, as the process takes months and months, plus the application fee is $5,000.

It is the vision and mission of Horse Farms Forever to inspire conservation of horse farms through education, awareness and idea exchange so as to preserve natural pasture land focusing on horses and their habitats, to protect soil and water on which they depend, and minimize land use conflicts
in Marion County, Florida.

We are watchful of government and others to preserve and protect horse farms and farmland for future generations - especially in the Farmland Preservation Area. We are neither anti-growth nor anti-development; we encourage urban growth to remain inside the Urban Growth Boundary.

Horse Farms Forever® is a Florida not-for-profit corporation registered with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services as a charitable organization and approved as a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) corporation by the Internal Revenue Service. Horse Farms Forever® does not have a political mission. Our status as a 501(c)(3) charitable organization does not allow us to participate or intervene in political activities. The organization will neither advocate on behalf of political candidates nor advocate for the passage of legislation.

 

Conversations About Conservation Summit 2021

Conversations About Conservation Summit 2021

Photo by Russell Crowder.

Conversations About Conservation 2021 Summit Was A Tremendous Success.

Thanks to everyone who made the time, during Thanksgiving week, to attend the second annual Conservation Summit at the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Company on November 23rd.

Over 400 people attended the event in person and online and the event was supported by over 40 sponsors! Our diverse sponsors ranged from the equine industry to health care and to the construction and development industry. This tremendous level of support is a testament of how important this Conversation about Conservation is for the future of Marion County. The purpose of the Summit was to inspire a community wide Conversation about how to preserve the horse farms and agricultural lands that are fundamental to Marion County’s global brand as the Horse Capital of the World®.

We were so honored to have Dr. John C. Malone, CEO of Liberty Media, as our Keynote Speaker, who shared his passion about land conservation and sustainable forestry and cattle ranching practices. “I’ve always been a conservationist from a sustainability point of view,” he said.

Thank you to George Isaacs, General Manager of Bridlewood Farm, for the heartfelt introduction of Dr. Malone.

Thank you to Kevin T. Sheilley, President & CEO of the Ocala Metro Chamber and Economic Partnership (Ocala CEP) for your candid presentation about Marion County’s booming economy and how to balance growth with preserving open space and farms. You did a great job presenting the Quality of Life Survey results in an engaging manner. (P.S. We knew the answer to the question about protecting the Farmland Preservation Area before we asked the question.) https://ocalacep.com/the-cep/team/

Thank you also to Mark Casse, Canadian and National Hall of Fame Trainer, for presenting the Acorn Conservation Award to Charlotte Weber.

Thank you, most of all, to Charlotte Weber, for your careful stewardship of Live Oak Stud for over 50 years.

And Special Thanks to Ocala Breeders’ Sales Company for donating the sales arena for the Summit.

One of the comments on the feedback survey summarized the key points of the Summit: “Hearing from Kevin Sheilley about the economic impact of the horse industry and that the growth of the horse industry and protection of farmland can work together with other smart growth in the County. Thanks to Horse Farms Forever for bringing the right people together and remaining ever vigilant in protecting our local treasure – farmland. “

We hope you were inspired too and we thank you for all that you do!

We wish you a Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and a Happy New Year!

Speakers

George Isaacs, General Manager of Bridlewood Farm, introduced John Malone, telling us all the story of how the Malones came to own Ocala’s largest Thoroughbred farm, and how the farm has thrived under John and Leslie’s leadership.

Mark Casse presented his friend and colleague, Charlotte Weber, with the Acorn Conservation Award.

Casse also got in some face time with Magic, one of the Gentle Carousel Miniature Therapy Horses.

“Think of these beautiful, iconic horse pastures as our ocean; and the magnificent live oak trees as our coral reefs,” said HFF President, Bernie Little – reminding us all that we are stewards of an environmental gift here in Marion County that is woven tightly to our culture and identity.

“I came here, as many of you did, because it was rural. It was quiet. You could have a nice little place. Now? 10,000 houses going up on this corner, 20,000 on the next. It gives me great concern…help us preserve it,” said Charlotte Weber.

Acorn Conservation Award winner, Charlotte Weber, with HFF President, Bernie Little and Mark Casse.

The beautiful Acorn Award, sculpted in Bronze by Colorado artist, Bryce Pettit.

“The ideas of growth and conservation are not always in conflict,” said Guest speaker Kevin Sheilley, President and CEO of the Ocala Metro CEP. “We really can have it all.”

“Ocala, which has this great heritage in horses and Thoroughbred horses, it’s kind of a unique area when you think about areas that deserve preservation. There aren’t that many places on the planet that are great for raising and training horses. The best ones have deep limestone soils,” said  John Malone, Liberty Media Chairman and owner of Bridlewood Farm.

“It is no coincidence that many of the world’s best horses have ties to Ocala. Our mineral rich soils have produced some of the strongest, best equine athletes in the world,” said Sara Powell Fennessy, HFF Executive Director.

“Beauty alone will not protect our farms. But there are several win-win solutions to protect land – from the Comprehensive Plan to Conservation Easements,” said Busy Shires, HFF Director of Conservation Strategies.

Guests

Katie Reynolds Wentz, Regional Sales Manager, Triple Crown Feed and Bill Vander Brink, Co-Owner of Elite Equestrian Magazine.

Scout – miniature therapy horse extraordinaire!

HFF Founder, Pauline Hartogh

Guests arriving. Over 400 registered to attend.

Thanks to an amazing corps of volunteers, each guest was greeted with a program and directions on where to find an amazing catered lunch by Fresh Green Tomatoes Catering Company.

HFF’s Director of Conservation Strategies, Busy Shires, with Ocala Mayor Kent Guinn, Jorge Garcia-Bangochea with Gentle Carousel Miniature Therapy Horse, Magic, and HFF’s Executive Director, Sara Fennessy.

HFF President Bernie Little and Dean Saunders

Guy Marwick, Executive Director of The Felburn Foundation, his wife Pat, daughter-in-law Elia and his son Matt Marwick.

HFF Volunteer Nancy DiMaggio discusses the FPA Map with a Guest.

Juliet W. Reid, Chester Weber, and Niki Popp Tripodi.

Marion County Commissioner Michelle Stone, Assistant County Administrator Public Works & Growth Services, Tracy Straub, Growth Services Director, Mary Elizabeth Burgess, and Executive Director at Ocala/Marion County Visitors & Convention Bureau, Loretta Shaffer.

Advent Health Foundation’s Executive Director, Jenna Krager, shares a smile with Magic from Gentle Carousel Miniature Therapy Horses.

HFF President Bernie Little with Horse Protection Association of Florida’s new Executive Director, Christine Massinger.

Sponsors

Jorge Garcia-Bengochea and Magic from Gentle Carousel Miniature Therapy Horses.

(L to R) Jim Henningsen, President of College of Central Florida, Christopher Knife College of Central Florida Foundation Executive Director, Joe Johnson, CEO of Advent Health Ocala and guest.

Sam Reid and Gary Hartogh, HFF Founder.

Matt Varney from Ocala Horse Properties with Juliet W. Reid.

Mary Phelps of Markel Equine Insurance and Horses Daily (R) along with Gina Capone of Ocala Florida News (L).

Jacqueline Taylor of Equus TV.

Lonny Powell, CEO of the FTBOA (R), with wife, Karen Powell (L) and daughter, HFF Executive Director, Sara Powell Fennessy (Center).

Staff & Board

HFF President, Bernie Little (R) with wife and HFF Founder, Mary Jane Hunt (L).

Board Vice President, Rob Desino (c), with Founders Jim Cannavino, Matt Varney and Elma Garcia Cannavino, and guest, Luann McElduff.

Executive Director, Sara Powell Fennessy.

Director of Communications, Michelle Grald.

Director of Conservation Strategies, Busy Shires.

Summit Articles and Videos

 

Guest Survey: "What Did You Enjoy Most?"

  • “Especially touching was the spontaneous standing ovation for Charlotte Weber, it was very wonderful to be part of that experience and see her family there with her. The information was fascinating regarding statistics and growth in Marion county. I was amazed to see such a large and diversified crowd in attendance and heard nothing but very positive comments about the entire event either directly or in passing. Excellent job to all!”
  • “My favorite part was the opening speaker (Sara Fennessy’s) ability to address the room. I liked Kevin Sheilley’s presentation and really liked the Acorn Award and thought it was so cool to see Mark Casse in person! He is a celebrity to my family. All of the staff did a great job conducting and participating in the event. A job well done HFF!”
  • “Kevin Sheilley was engaging and such a character. I learned a lot. “
  • “Hearing from the Kevin Sheilley about the economic impact of the horse industry and that the growth of the horse industry and protection of farmland can work together with other smart growth in the County. Thanks to Horse Farms Forever for bringing the right people together and remaining ever vigilant in protecting our local treasure- farmland. “
  • “John Malone is always calm, optimistic and inspiring. George Isaac’s introduction of JM was epic. Kevin Sheilley’s presentation was very informative. He expresses an understanding of the need for urban development as well as preservation. The proof, as they say, will be in the results. Tough job as you can’t please all the people all of the time! Everyone involved made it a great experience.”
  • “This was a well organized event. Thank you for all your hard work. It is certainly appreciated. Having lived in Marion County for about 25 years and watched its growth it is comforting to know that everyone is doing their best to preserve what we love best about it. Long live SLOWCALA.”

Guest Survey: "Ideas For Future Summits"

    • “Keep up the good work! Remind people you are a non-profit and how the operation is structured!”

    • “Testimonials from select farms & breed interests. Drill-down next year on next steps/call to action, updating of issues current & of import at the time.”

    • “What we need to do to assist with conserving our horse farms. “

    • “Transportation and how it relates to conservation. Proposed new Marion County Roads. 75 Interchange North of 27. World Equestrian Center”

    • “More about conservation easements, other alternatives to save the agricultural lands in Marion County”

    • “I would like to know more about any State level protection efforts, laws, programs that are intended to encourage conservation of lands. What can be done by Horse Farms Forever to strengthen those state level efforts, if any exist now? It is wonderful to rely on wealthy and sympathetic land owners but we ultimately need more than that to ensure significant conservation in and outside of Marion County. “

    • “I feel it’s helpful for the people who do not want urban sprawl to understand what plans need to be passed to be able to contain the growth. (i.e., infrastructure such as city water/sewer, etc.). That infrastructure is going to cost money and if it is easier for homes to be built without damaging the environment close together, the need to take over more land will be less.”

    • “Would like to know about volunteer opportunities.”

Thanks to Our Sponsors!

Starting With Our Presenting Sponsor,
Brook Ledge Horse Transportation!

 

Gold 

Cone

Jacqueline B. Mars

Misty Lane Cattle Co.
Niall Brennan Farm Horse Farms Forever Ocala Marion County

Silver

Bronze

Florida Horse Park Logo
Florida Horse Park Logo

Marketing Partners:

Florida Horse Park Logo
Florida Horse Park Logo
Florida Horse Park Logo

Always Watching

We work hard to keep you informed, and to represent our members' interests in preserving our horse farms, farmland and the unique character and culture of Marion County's 193,000 acre Farmland Preservation Area.

Join the herd. Every voice matters.

The Little Acorn That Started It All

The Little Acorn That Started It All

Photo by Russell Crowder

Sculptor Bryce Pettit Fashions A Timeless Award for Horse Farms Forever

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 their services.

Mary Jane Hunt (center) with Mountain Trails Gallery owner, Adam Warner (left) and Wildlife Sculptor, Bryce Pettit (right) who is holding the clay form which would become the Acorn Award.

You may recognize Warner from another prominent bronze sculpture in Marion County – he worked with Utah artist, Mike Wilson, to create and install the very familiar “Cracker Cowboy” series of sculptures at the entrance to Brownwood in the Villages.

 

Bryce Pettit has been featured in a variety of galleries and exhibitions in his 20 years as a bronze sculptor. He has been chosen for several large public works including for the Tulsa International Airport, the Maritime Museum in Ludington Michigan, the Na ‘Aina Kai Botanical Gardens in Kawai, Hawaii as well a collection of libraries and schools.

The phrase “From tiny acorns, mighty oaks grow,” aptly describes how we envision the conservation movement in Marion County. A few landowners are leading the way by putting their vision into action as they protect their land. The first of these that we have honored is Charlotte Weber of Live Oak Stud. We look forward to honoring more in the coming years. Each time, they become an example to other landowners who see the possibilities, and the movement grows. In the end, a magnificent tree has grown, with branches that spread throughout the County, and the Farmland Preservation Area is sheltered in its shade.

We thank Adam Warner and Bryce Pettit for embracing our vision and bringing it to life as an Award that will be treasured by all who receive it.

The artistic strength of a sculpture is in the simplicity of its composition. I try to pare each piece down to the minimum necessary to tell the story. When the composition is reduced to only the essentials, the intensity of the movement and impact of the form is pure and direct.

Bryce Pettit

Wildlife Sculptor, Durango, CO

An Acorn For Charlotte

Live Oak Stud horse farm owner Charlotte Weber (center) is presented with the Acorn Preservation Award by Horse Farms Forever President Bernie Little (left) and Canadian and National Horse Racing Hall of Fame Thoroughbred Trainer Mark E. Casse (right) at the Conservation Summit at Ocala Breeder’s Sales, Tuesday, November 23, 2021, in Ocala, Florida. Photo by Cyndi Chambers, Ocala Star Banner.

A small gallery of Bryce Pettit’s work. To see more, visit http://www.brycepettit.com/

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