A focus on farmlands

The Marion County Farmland Preservation Festival on April 8 will highlight the area’s rich agricultural history.

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Posted March 30, 2023 | By Rosemarie Dowell

File photo: Jaxon Miller, 9, Dade Markham, 4, and Raelyn Hoffman, 2, left to right, play in a large bin of corn during the 14th-annual Marion County Farmland Preservation Festival at Rock Star Arena in Shiloh on Saturday, April 9, 2022. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2022.

This year’s Marion County Farmland Preservation Festival has yet another venue change, but its message of celebrating time-honored traditions and quest for preservation of farmland has been consistent since its founding.  

The 15th annual event will take place from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sat., April 8, at Majestic Oaks Ocala, 17500 N U.S. Highway 441 in Reddick, a move from last year’s locale of Rock Star Arena in Micanopy. 

Created by the nonprofit Save Our Rural Areas (SORA)–which opposes urban sprawl on farmland, especially within the county’s designated Farmland Preservation Area (FPA)–the educational festival highlights the area’s rich agricultural history with exhibits and demonstrations, including a “Cracker Cowboy Camp,” and beekeeping. 

“We’re expecting a big crowd this year,” said festival chairman Jerome Feaster, a founding member of SORA, which also works to protect the rural character of the area. “We’ve got lots of vendors who are looking forward to coming and a great location with people who are supportive of our efforts. 

“We have quite a few nonprofits coming, too; more than we’ve ever had,” he added. 

A farmer’s market stocked with locally grown plants and produce, along with traditional farm and cottage crafts will be available, too, said Feaster. 

Along with the crowd-favorite Horse and Tractor Parade (set to begin at 10 a.m.), which features antique and vintage John Deere and International Harvesters tractors and others, the event also includes other farm animals, a petting zoo and hayrides.

Live entertainment will take place throughout the day, with bluegrass, Americana and fiddle music.

Local musicians Rod and Dave Guynn, cousins to the late rock icon Tom Petty, will be back for a repeat performance, said Feaster, who lives in Shiloh, in northwest Marion County, on acreage his grandparents settled on more than 100 years ago. 

An array of tastebud-tickling food will be on tap, too, including barbecue, hot dogs and sausages, hamburgers, homemade desserts, Jersey Cow Creamery Ice Cream, freshly made lemonade and more, said Feaster. 

“It should be fun for the whole family,” he said.  

The inaugural Farmland Preservation Festival took place in the parking lot of Shiloh United Methodist Church and moved to other locations over the years, including Harvest Village (now Antonio’s Restaurant and Speakeasy), Coon Hollo Farm and the Ocala Jockey Club.

Besides all the fun and education, Feaster hopes the festival’s message of preserving critical farm and agricultural lands and the rural flavor of the area comes through to those in attendance. 

“It’s all about preservation, that’s the main thing,” he said. “And getting people here and out in the community.” 

As always, admission is free. This year, however, organizers have added a $5 parking fee and each paid fee comes with a raffle ticket for items at the SORA booth.

To learn more, go to farmlandfestival.org.

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