Horse Farms Forever Summit Balances Conservation & Growth in Ocala

Jim Cannavino, Matt Varney, Rob Desino, Elma Garcia Cannavino & Luann McElduff

Horse Farms Forever, is a conservation minded non-profit organization which was founded in 2018 in response to the steady growth and threat of encroaching road development in Marion County. Since its inception, Horse Farms Forever has received enormous support from farm owners, community leaders and businesses in Ocala who share the same passion; to protect our natural resources in the Horse Capital of the World.

With a mission to “preserve the character and culture that horses, horse farms and the 193,000 acre Farmland Preservation Area (FPA) bring to Marion County. The organization is focused on raising awareness about protecting horse farms and advocating for the protection of the FPA from the threat of unplanned growth and road development.”

Rob Desino, a founding board member at HFF, leads the team at Ocala Horse Properties in our passionate support of this critical mission.  Together with Matt Varney, they recently attended the 2021 Horse Farms Forever Conservation Summit, held at Ocala Breeder Sales.

HFF Summit Attracts Notable Speakers & Attendees

Mark Casse awards first Acorn Award to Charlotte Weber.

Over Thanksgiving weekend, Ocala community members came out in force to show support of the second annual HFF Conservation Summit. Titled “Conversations about Conservation”, over 400 notable land owners, business and community leaders gathered at Ocala Breeder Sales to celebrate existing conservation accomplishments and to discuss regional planning for open space.

Notable attendees and speakers included philanthropist and business executive John Malone, president and CEO of the Ocala/Marion County Chamber & Economic Partnership (CEP) Kevin Sheilley, Triple Crown thoroughbred trainer Mark E. Casse, and land conservationist and owner of Live Oak Stud, Charlotte Weber.

Mark E. Casse presented the first Acorn Conservation Award to Charlotte Weber, owner of the 4500 acres Live Oak Stud, her significant contributions to preserving horse farms. “Horse Farms Forever committee could not have chosen a more worthy representative of this honor,” Casse said. “Charlotte Weber is the epitome of what this award means to Ocala and to Marion.”

It is no secret that Ocala attracts land owners who are also passionate equestrians, due to our wide open spaces. Ocala Horse Properties takes pride in having our client, John Malone, a philanthropist and conservationist, lead the conversation as Keynote Speaker, via teleconference from Virginia.  Malone is the chairman of the Liberty Media Corporation, which owns the Atlanta Braves and Formula One Group motorsports company.  He is the largest land owner in the United States, preserving the majority of his 2.2 million acres of farms, crops and woodlands. John and his wife Leslie own Bridlewood Farm in Ocala and are founding members of HFF.

See full article in the Ocala Star Banner.

Matt Varney Speaks with HFF on Proactive Planning to Save Farmland

Matt Varney and Juliette Reid

Matt, along with Chris and Rob Desino, are founding members of HFF. Being ground floor members of the non-profit was never in question, as all 3 men are vested in seeing Marion County’s growth appropriately managed. As a Corporate Founder, Ocala Horse Properties enthusiastically came on board as a Gold Sponsor of this year’s Conservation Summit.

A week prior to the summit, HFF sat down with Matt to discuss why he’s vested in land conservation in Ocala. The following is an excerpt from that article published by HFF.

HFF: Why is it important to have a Conservation Summit?

MV: “We look into the faces of buyers who come to this area for the first time,” says Varney. They are in awe of the natural beauty and open space. This is one of the few places in the country where I can literally sell a farm that is worth more as a horse farm than as anything else. This area is unique. I want to know that when I’m long gone, there will still be beautiful open space, horse farms, and a community of likeminded people. Horse Farms Forever is looking out for that future.”

HFF: Why is now an important time for conversations about conservation?

MV: “Most communities find out too late that shortsighted development has taken over. They then have to react,” warns Varney. “That is not the case here. When we had the Coastal Connector proposal three years ago, Horse Farms Forever formed and reacted very quickly to stop it. In 4 to 5 months, we organized a grassroots effort that can often take years. Now, we are in a position to be proactive, protecting the land before it is threatened.” Varney contends that Marion County is in a position of opportunity right now, and is poised for smart growth.

“Marion County can responsibly grow in a lot of different directions,” he says. “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.”

Chocolates were donated to all attendees at the summit as a gift from OHP.

Help HFF Continue to Lead the Charge on Ocala Conservation!

HFF wants to encourage the conservation of Marion County’s horse farms through education, awareness and idea exchange. Let’s help them preserve the open spaces and beautiful places that make Ocala/Marion County the Horse Capital of the World® for the generations to come.

Join us in supporting their herd and donate! No amount is too small towards the effort in keeping our region beautiful.

Photo Credits compliments of Russell Crowder and Karolina Wignall for Horse Farms Forever.