Advocating for the Preservation of Ocala Farm Land
HOW IT BEGAN
After hearing about possible FDOT routes that would destroy the NW Horse Farms, Chris, Rob and Matt quickly jumped into action rallying the community and communicating with Tallahassee. Weeks later and in front of a packed house at the County Commission Chambers, Matt delivered a powerful speech that laid out the frustrations of the community, the fault of the FDOT study and challenged the county commission to act immediately and decisively.
The result of that meeting was unanimous, the commissioners were on board and had listened to OHP and the community and they began drafting a resolution against the Coastal Connector.
Our horses, our land, our businesses, our livelihood. This is what we — Ocala Horse Properties and Horse Farms Forever — seek to protect. We know the value we and our community bring to this area. That value results in a thriving, stable economy.
Knowing the resolution was only the start – and knowing this was ultimately a state issue, not a county one – OHP quickly came together with Bernie Little along with many other farm owners to create Horse Farms Forever.
“Horse Farms Forever would not have been able to make such an impact so quickly without the expertise, leadership, and tireless efforts of Ocala Horse Properties.” says Bernie Little, president of Horse Farms Forever.
The team continues their work as Vice President (Rob Desino), founders, active advocates, spokespeople and sponsors.
“We are proud of the actions we have taken to help solidify the future of Marion County’s horse farms,” says Matt. And, as a result, the OHP team has helped the horse industry create more than 21,000 jobs throughout the county with an overall economic impact of $2.3 billion dollars.
It is in the same spirit of advocacy that Matt was honored with the Carry Back Award by the Thoroughbred Farm Managers’ organization, which honors those who make a considerable impact on the Florida thoroughbred industry through their service.
“We love working with groups like Horse Farms Forever that strive to conserve the beautiful green spaces that make Marion County a special place to live. We want to protect that sense of space for generations to come.”
– MATT VARNEY
In November, Horse Farms forever held their Second Annual Conservation Summit, “Conversations about Conservation” at Ocala Breeders’ Sales. OHP were Gold Sponsors of the summit which addressed the balance between growth and preservation of Marion County’s 193,00-acre Farmland Preservation Area.
At the top of the agenda, Charlotte Weber was awarded the first annual Acorn Conservation Award. John C. Malone, Liberty media Chairman, businessman, philanthropist and conservationist, was the keynote speaker. Malone is the largest private landowner in North America with more than 2.2 million acres including Ocala’s Bridlewood Farm.
“We [Ocala Horse Properties] brought John Malone to Ocala. He was a client of ours originally from Wellington. He is one of the most impressive people I’ve ever met,” says Matt. “His passion for land and knowledge for conservation is at a completely different level — something we should all strive for. He is a role model.”
The major topic of discussion, led by Ocala Metro Chamber and Economic Partnership President and CEO Kevin Sheilley, was the results of the recent Quality of Life Survey which was conducted last summer.
“It’s always important to take the pulse of the community and have that perspective in order to make smart decisions,” says Matt. “The survey will help us to look at where the county is growing and where it needs to grow. Ocala is incredibly unique in that it is growing in 2 different ways. On one hand, we are adding diverse industry, housing and jobs – classic urban growth. But also, we have one of the largest regional farmland preservation areas in the country and a thriving equine industry dependent on those farms,” he continues.
The survey, organized by Horse Farms Forever and sponsored by Ocala Horse Properties, will help key organizations and leaders understand the needs and desires of Marion County residents and define the issues facing the area.
“Marion County can responsibly grow in a lot of different directions. I’m from a family of developers and have seen the effects of shortsighted development. We are unbelievably fortunate to have the Farmland Preservation Area and Urban Growth Area here, and leadership that values them equally,” says Matt.