81 Acres of Land Placed into Conservation with LTV
Written by Victoria Peace | Photos by Joanne Maisano
“Ohana aina” means “family land” in Hawaiian, signifying a cherishing and passing down of something from generation to generation. Melissa Pankas, the Hawaiian-born co-founder of Ohana Aina LLC, says the concept of “ohana” carries a certain responsibility: to take care of those in your community as they take care of you.
This principle was perfectly illustrated when 81 acres of land owned by Ohana Aina LLC was put into conservation easement with the Land Trust of Virginia last month. Situated in Aldie, an area that has been vulnerable to increasingly rapid rates of development, the easement marks important progress in protecting the rural landscape and historic character of the region. The property includes 55.9 acres of “prime farmland” soil, plus 27 acres of forested land, and will retain no right of division, meaning it can never be split up into smaller parcels.
Ohana Equestrian Preserve ensures that land preservation and conservation, community programs, and equestrian facilities work in harmony with one another.
Ohana Aina LLC was founded in 2015 by husband and wife Jim and Melissa Pankas. They were approached by a neighbor about purchasing a 25-acre farm that bordered their property in Aldie, Va. While initially unsure about what to do with the land and its existing four-stall barn that was in need of repair, the Pankases knew they wanted the property to remain in agricultural use and provide a way for them to give back to the community. Although no one in their family rode horses, the Pankases wanted to honor Virginia’s strong equine heritage.
“We believe every community needs a well thought out infrastructure and balanced combination of buildings, people, animals, and open space to coexist,” Melissa says. “We feel what sets Loudoun apart from many other communities is its rural beginnings and rich equine history, which in so many ways speaks to the area’s culture, values, beliefs, and attitudes. The equine industry not only adds to the aesthetic beauty of the area but, in addition to this, we believe horses have a huge people element through the many positive aspects of various therapeutic benefits.”
From this desire, the Ohana Equestrian Preserve was born. The couple’s first priority was updating the existing facilities to support equine mental health therapeutic coaching. This included renovating the existing barn into a six-stall facility, installing new footing in the outdoor ring, and reconfiguring the paddocks to accommodate more horses. However, the upgrades did not stop there.
In February 2017, the construction of a 32,000-square-foot facility was completed featuring a state-of-the-art 20,000-square-foot indoor arena with 20 attached stalls, climate-controlled viewing spaces, walnut wood tack rooms, and heated grooming and wash stall areas. In October 2019, Ohana Aina LLC expanded the farm by purchasing an additional 53 acres of land. In January 2020, the Ohana Preservation Foundation became a nonprofit 501c3 with a stated mission “to preserve land, promote the therapeutic nature of horses, and to support community programs through the Aldie Conservation Fund, Dropping the Reins Initiative, and The Jubinsky Fund.”
Melissa says their commitment to community outreach on a broad and inclusive level is central to their philosophy. “As part of what Ohana Aina LLC is about and through our community outreach, we strive to share our farm with not just the local equine community but also with the community at large,” she says.
The Pankases believe that horses have great potential to aid in the process of healing and personal rejuvenation. Melissa says her ultimate goal for the farm is to share it with “people who have the propensity to heal mentally and physically by interacting with animals and open space.”
Jim and Melissa Pankas.
One example of how this vision is being brought to life is through “Healing with Horses,” a free program run by Capital Caring Kids and hosted by Ohana in December 2020. The day’s activities centered around using the therapeutic nature of horses to help kids battling serious illnesses or grieving the loss of a loved one. The farm’s adorable minis — Pineapple and Coconut — took center stage, in addition to a visit with Santa and a special craft.
Over the course of their five-year journey, the Pankases have gained a tremendous amount of knowledge about the equine business and the challenges faced by owners as they struggle to balance the high costs of running and maintaining an equine facility, the increasing scarcity and price of land in this area, and the accompanying issues of traffic and congestion.
Melissa spoke about the difficulty of competing against developers and development in Loudoun County. “We hope businesses like ours will be taken into consideration when all of these developments and encroachment to the transition zone are being approved as we feel that if this continues, we may not survive because the land around us may not be suitable or attractive for equine folks to board or train there,” she says.
The Ohana easement marks the Land Trust of Virginia’s 202nd conservation easement, and the property is now part of 9,583 acres that are protected by the trust in Loudoun County. While there is still work to be done and challenges to overcome, the easement of the Ohana Equestrian Preserve is a step in the right direction toward protecting the gateway to rural Loudoun county.
“I drive by this property almost daily and it brings me such joy to look over and see the green space that I know will be protected forever from the very intense rate of development that is literally on Ohana’s doorstep,” Ana-Elisa Bryant says, the stewardship manager at the Land Trust of Virginia.
Through Ohana Aina LLC and the Ohana Preservation Foundation, the Pankases have created a special place that protects the land of the Ohana Equestrian Preserve for future generations, gives back to the local community, and reflects the historic roots of Virginia horse country.
Ohana Aina LLC is “the sharing of our land (‘aina’) to our ‘ohana’ (local community) with much ‘aloha’ (love, peace, and thankfulness),” Melissa says. ML
Published in the January 2021 issue of Middleburg Life.