Ocala’s Adena Beef Revolution

An Adena Beef cow grazes on grass near Fort McCoy, Florida
One of the best things about being a photojournalist is the opportunity you are given to discover the hidden beauty of the place you live. Photographing the Adena Beef cattle operation that’s coming online near Ocala for Canada’s Maclean’s Magazine was a great chance to rediscover a stretch of North Florida I usually just fly on my way up to Gainesville.

Frank Stronach has purchased somewhere around 70,000 acres in Marion County and has become the county’s largest private land owner. The former car parts magnate, horse track owner (Santa Anita, Gulfstream, Pimlico, etc.) and thoroughbred breeder is well on his way to building an enormous grass-fed hormone-free beef operation north east of Ocala. He plans to have 30,000 head of cattle, his own slaughterhouse and even a bio mass power plant on site. In order to grow enough grass to feed that many head of cattle, they’ll need acres upon acres of irrigated fields. Adena Beef has filed permits to pump as much as 13 million gallons of water from the aquifer each day during the dry season to irrigate their crops. Local residents are worried that much pumping will cause the famed local freshwater springs and rivers to drop to dangerously low levels. Adena folks say they will rarely pump anywhere near that much water, they’ll leave 40 percent of the land forested with pine trees and palmettos and they’ll create a new brand of high quality grass-fed beef raised wholly Florida.

So my assignment was three fold: Document the local water resources that could be impacted by pumping, photograph the new “harvesting facility” and visit with some of the young cattle that are getting the operation off the ground.

I visited Silver River State Park on the eastern side of Ocala to rent a canoe and get out on the water. The second I laid my eyes on the Silver River I knew it was going to be a good day. The water was crystal clear and filled with alligators, turtles, otters and some of the biggest freshwater fish I have ever seen. I paddled for over 3 hours to the Silver Springs spring head on beautiful but windy day then headed up north to the Adena Springs property.

The harvesting facility land had been leveled but no vertical construction had begun. The surrounding forest was a dense mix of slash pines and palmettos that whistled in the late afternoon breeze. I spent the better part of an hour wandering the property and then it was off to another ranch where the first class of Adena Beef cows were being raised. The young cows were all too friendly and would close in around me every time I knelt down for a low angle shot. I worked the light and the herd as long as I could until the warm light faded away.

I keep coming back to the ranch, the springs and the cows trying to wrap my head around it all. I’m still not sure what to make of it but I’m sure glad I got to know the Silver River. And I think I’ll keep an eye out for that Adena Beef on the supermarket shelf.

Read the whole story:
Maclean’s: Frank Stronach Goes to Florida

And visit Silver River State Park where canoes rent for $7/hour.

The Silver River

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