Episode #15– Amaya Genaro from Rancho Mission Viejo’s community of Esencia shares how the dream to become one of California’s most beautiful farm to table neighborhoods became a reality.
She’s the liaison between the association and the developer. She ensures that her and her team are delivering on their marketing promise by keeping a close check on things, make twists and turns when they need to and making sure they are keeping the fun alive, staying on course with the vision, the beauty and all that it takes to really connect people to one another, to the land, and their families.
Amaya also goes into great detail about the history of Rancho Mission Viejo and how the dream of making this one of California’s most beautiful communities became a reality.
Enjoy the interview!
Brett: Hey Amaya, how are you?
Amaya: Brett, I’m fine. How are you?
Brett: Great, fantastic, fantastic.
Amaya: I was so excited to see your blogs with the website, it’s absolutely amazing what you and your family are doing.
Brett: Well thank you, it’s been a lot of fun. Here’s how I look at it, we like to learn in an environment where it’s fun. I remember in school, going back 100 years ago, all the classes I enjoyed the most is when the experience was fun. My wife said you know let’s go out and check on some Agrihoods, some places that we can look into for raising Cash, our son Cash. And I thought to myself if we’re going to do this, let’s have fun doing it. So it’s been a lot of fun. I wanted people to see how fun these communities are and during our travels, we’ve seen as of today 21 different properties. The words that come to mind first are de Esencia, Rancho Mission Viejo, one word it’s fun. It’s a very fun community.
Amaya: I love to hear that, that’s awesome.
Brett: So what role do you play Amaya? You’re the director of Community Services, yes?
Amaya: I am and some would call me the director of fun actually, but I actually am the keeper of the vision. And I work directly with our team that actually runs the homeowners association and our community services organization. I’m basically the liaison between them and the developer, and the opportunities I have to ensure that we’re delivering on our marketing promise. So kind of keeping a check on things, make twists and turns when we need to and making sure that we’re keeping the fun alive, the vision, the beauty all that it takes to really connect people to one another, to the land, and their families.
Brett: There’s a great story behind this. The family that actually started this, they owned the land. Talk about that for a second. We haven’t seen anything of this magnitude in any of our travels, so share that with us.
Amaya: I’m going to actually go back 130 years because the families owned the land that long. And it was two Irish immigrants in 1882 that met each other, and with a handshake they became partners; one was a Banker and one was a Rancher. The Banker owned about over 200,000 acres in South Orange County and he needed somebody to manage the land and the cattle, and so Richard O’Neil senior said I can do that. They agreed that if he managed the land that over a period of time, he would become the owner of half of the land and that’s what happened. So gosh, how many years later? it was probably 1942, the U.S. government came in and said Well, we are going to purchase a lot of this land for the U.S. Marines for Camp Pendleton. And so a lot of the land was used for that and the family was left with about 52,000 acres. And at that time in the 60’s, the 5 freeway was built and in order to continue the agricultural heritage, ranching and farming they decided to also become land developers and started building master planned communities. This actual community is the last 23,000 acres owned by the family, and why they are the name is the same as the company, because Tony Moiso, the owner and chairman wanted to keep the lasting legacy, named the community Rancho Mission Viejo. That’s where we are today.
Brett: So cool! What was the first property that you guys had developed out there?
Amaya: Actually it was Mission Viejo. You can kind of get confused between Rancho Mission Viejo. That is now a city of about, I’m going to say a 100,000 but maybe less.
Brett: Is that neighboring to Coto De Caza.
Amaya: Basically its Mission Viejo, which is really closer to the 5 freeway and then we have Rancho Santa Margarita which is adjacent to Coto De Caza. So along what I call the Antonio corridor is Rancho Santa Margarita, a smaller community we built about 1,200 homes called Las Flores and then over 8,000 units of Ladera Ranch, which is unincorporated to Orange County, and then you go further down Antonio, and then now you’re into Rancho Mission Viejo and then you hit the Ortega highway.
Brett: Got you! So when we came through there our visit was to Esencia, and I’m guessing that is one of your newest properties.
Amaya: Correct! So what we have is the 23,000 acres of the Rancho Mission Viejo, which is Orange County’s last working ranch; 6,000 of those acres are going to be developed, which is about 25 percent of the ranch lands and then 75 percent is going to be open space conservancy. So we have about 5 planning areas, so our 1st one was the village of Sendero which we opened in 2013, and then our second village is Esencia, the one you visited that we opened in 2015. So we have about almost 3,500 to 4,000 homes totaled between both of the villages.
Brett: When we came through there our boy cash he didn’t want to leave Amaya. Every time we thought we saw the last playground and play area, there was another one. You saw the video, the zip-line was a highlight. To this day he still talks about the zip-line. No Agrihood who we’ve ever visited had a zip line. This kid is in love with Esencia. When people come to that community what are you noticing? What’s the feedback you’re getting from people that have no idea that this place was even there?
Amaya: Oh my gosh! I think there are different segments of the population kind of what they’re looking for. We do residents surveys, this isn’t just from a marketing focus that residents surveys of those that are actually living here; and what’s really, truly resonating, it is the open space, and the views and the feeling of serenity and peacefulness that they’re getting in Orange County, which is pretty unheard of.
Amaya: So the next step then is the connectivity to their neighbors, the neighborliness being able to through our ranch life community services organization, we connect people and residences through the different events that occur. We have even initial meet and greets so they can meet their neighbors before they move in. So those connections become really deep and wide and those are some of the meet connections that they make, and then for the 55 plus for the Gavelon neighborhoods and the families that live there, they are just finding that the people there that they live next you are, they’ve never had neighbors like this before. They’ve lived in some of their community for 20 and 30 years and never knew their next-door neighbor if you will. So they’re just finding new ways to meet people, new clubs, new activities, things that they’ve never ventured into. They’re able to learn new skills and just have fun as you said, have fun.
Brett: For sure, and as you are saying this it’s repeating itself that the common thread from our experience and I can say this now from experience of seeing various community Agrihoods around the country is that the feedback is, there is a sense of community that brings people together like we’ve never experienced before. So coming from a conventional cookie cutter subdivision into an Agrihood, an Agri-community with the farm, with the events there’s just something, I’m not sure we can say it’s just one thing that’s bringing these people so close together. I think it is a multitude of things. Is that kind of what you’re seeing?
Amaya: It is. I think it’s a holistic approach because the way we build communities and this is the way we’ve really built community since day one in Mission Viejo, I am going to just call it, maybe two prong for now. It’s more complex than that but we have the built infrastructure, where you build the roads, and the parkways and you bring the schools in, you have the amenities, the recreational clubs and things of that nature, and then you have the trails, and then you have the multi-middle pathways, whatever it may be that builds infrastructure. But then we have layered right, with multi-million dollar organizations to oversee it; whether that’s homeowners association. It is similar to making it like a city. So the city has a public works department, they basically maintain the entire actual infrastructure. The H.O.A maintains all the clubhouses, the landscaping, all of that within the community, and then our community services organization is like the parks and rec department, where they can actually activate the amenities. And that’s where that holistic approach really deepens, and then we have the layering of the reserve at Rancho Mission Viejo, which is really a unique offering, where they do public programming for the public, they do it for the schools and then they offer exclusive programming for residents, so that them on to the land through hikes, interpretive lectures, astronomy nights, rambles on the reserve, things of that nature.
And then we actually added another layer, which is a ranch ride shuttle system and some multi-modal system of Pathways that we’ve developed within the community to connect the villages, one to another.
And we also layered it with the shuttle system that moves people around the ranch for certain events that we have and then off the ranch for summer shuttle to get them to the beaches or some of the local South Orange County destinations. So when you say it’s not just one thing, you’re absolutely right. It’s a whole holistic approach to a community lifestyle that really resonates with people.
Brett: We love the fact that you are so multi-generational. You’re selling out so quickly, as we did our tour we saw sold out signs popping out throughout the community. First of all, Orange County come on, I mean it’s probably one the most beautiful places in the country, and we’ve been around the country several times. It’s a great location and on top of that what you guys are doing there as far as offering your amenities. The visitors’ center is so cool because a lot of these big communities seem like there’s something missing and then there’s a handful that is out there that actually say look, we want people to be educated. When they come here we want them to feel welcomed, and that’s what you guys are doing. We pulled up there, we got there in the afternoon and you saw the video; we got there probably about 12:00 or 1:00 and when we left it was dark. And we haven’t seen everything yet but the way that we are welcomed by people not only your visitors center, Penny, and Kathy, your neighbors, the residents were also all just so friendly. I had just been there for half the day, I can imagine it is like to live there.
Amaya: It is really unique and I think when you talk about hospitality, it’s interesting that you say that about our visitor center because we’ve gone from our visitor center in Sendero. I don’t know what the square footage was, but we have decreased that side by about 50 percent into Esencia. And then when we went into Northwalk, which is the visitor center that you saw it’s just a sliver of the size basically of what we used to have. And because so much is digitized today and people are doing a lot of the research on their website. But we always want to make sure that we have that hospitality feeling, that welcoming and that is really a core value of the Moiso family. It has always been this since day one and I wish I had in front of me the ranch code.
Tony Moisio wrote the ranch code. It was up in the visitor center, in the garage where you were. One is making your handshake your bond, which goes back to that first story that I shared with you about the two Irishmen. It was a handshake that all the sudden he owns land because of a handshake. It’s about being hospitable, it’s about being kind to others, respectful, it’s even of a take-off of the cowboy code if you will the code of ethics with the cowboys. It’s just very similar approach and that code of ethics, that ranch code is what we’re trying to embody as we meet with home shoppers and how we want our team, the vendors and the staff that’s hired to be able to really present ourselves in that light so that we perpetuate not only the legacy of the land but the legacy of the family and their heart.
Brett: I’m so glad you said that because in a world of impersonalization, you said everything’s moving digitally, everything’s online, a lot of things are online but we’re still human beings that like that personal touch. And I hope this interview gets back to your developers to know that you know they’re standing out in the crowd of a lot of different communities by having that personal touch there. Sure we can get online, click a button, get on your phone, but it’s nothing like walking into a real-life visitors center being greeted with a warm smile, a handshake, can we get you a bottle of water? My hopes are, that as potential home buyers looking for the ideal community for their family, this is the 1st step of the process because you can buy a house anywhere but it’s a feel. When my wife and I set out on our journey to look for an Agrihood for our family a lot of times they just want to sell you a house. My wife said no, look we want to see, touch, feel get experience from the community before, the house buying part is easy. If you are going to raise your son in an environment, your family in an environment, you want to get a good feel for it. So again great for you guys, great job on you guys, for having that visitors center, that 1st impression when you get to that community, so awesome stuff.
Amaya: Thank you. I’d love to offer to you and your wife, there’s something that we’re doing that’s pretty unique and we’ve kind of even extended it this year. We have a pass, basically to the ranch with up to two-week pass for home shoppers. And you can meet with Ann and Charlie at the visitors’ center and you will actually have the ability to look at the two weeks out of the next couple of months that might work for you, and you bring your family, and we can issue you an access card, we’ll put you in touch with the different opportunities that are occurring on the ranch, and you will have an opportunity to experience to get into the amenities. You can workout at the hilltop fitness club, jump into the pool, maybe rent out a tent at the campout, take a ramble on the reserves, work the farm, you know there’s a lot of opportunities that abound there. So that’s something that we’re really trying to promote. We really haven’t done that over the past several years but, going into 2019 that’s something we’re really trying to focus on, because I think it is about that experience where people can touch and feel what they think that lifestyle is going to be.
Brett: We really appreciate that offer, that’s very kind of you. You touched on something about the farm, let us talk about that farm for a second. We really didn’t get to spend too much time at the farm, I believe it was offseason. Is that a full working farm? Is it in process? What’s the deal with the farm?
Amaya: So we have 3 farms, one is behind the gates for our 55 plus neighborhood but what we did, we actually went with the approach of communal farming. And we just decided that we wanted to do something different besides just renting like plots of ground. Kinda like those 8 by 10 plots that people can do and they just farm themselves. We wanted to go a little deeper, that we could actually educate people and make it a more of an intense experience for folks. So what we did is we have an expert farm team. We have 3 farmers that actually tend to the farms and work them and work with our residents who want to become farmhands and they actually pay a fee to volunteer, believe that or not. So we have two growing seasons, they pay a $100.00 for each growing season, they work about a minimum of 4 hours a month, and that’s per household so your entire family can come, you can bring your kids and you have the opportunity to learn from the farm experts up there. You can access all the vegetables, produce and fruit that are growing, so it’s not just in the little plot of land that you have. We can get busy especially for families and can’t get out there to water the garden you know somebody else is taking care of it. So you just sign up for those 2-hour slots, a couple of times a month but know that other people are there during other times of the month to take care of the garden.
And then we have a European kind of you pick, instead of the C.S.A basket, we decided when you want something, just come and pick it, you are right there at the farm. If you’re working that day, take your produce, tonight if you’re having your family over and you just want to have a great salad or something, just go pick it fresh and you’re on your way. So those are some of the kind of unique things that we’ve done now, so we also have a monthly potluck. It’s amazing the food at the potluck, its pretty fun.
And we’ve done some different things where we’ve had one gentleman who actually had hops and they decided to get the seeds. They brought him down from, I think Northern California because his mom lives here was here if I have the story right, and they ended up growing the hops and then they made the beer, and then at the potluck, they tasted the beer. So it’s just that kind of thing, you just can’t share, it’s the residents. It’s when the residents get involved to me the experiences are exponential. We as a company or our team that we’ve hired to execute programs is awesome, but it’s when residents get involved that’s where the heartbeat is.
Brett: For sure is that a C.S.A. set up at the farm? Is there an annual subscription fee to get produce from the farm?
Amaya: Yeah, it’s a 6 month fee. It’s a 6 month fee that you pay, and then you just pick what you want, that’s what we’re doing right now.
Brett: I got you.
Amaya: You just harvest whatever you want.
Brett: That’s Very, very cool.
Amaya: We have the quarterly workshops, we have a gather and gift program once a month where we actually have the entire community to come in and they gather and harvest and we take it to the mission basilica pantry at the San Juan Capistrano at the mission, and we bring the produce there for their food pantry, once a month.
We are engaged in different events that we do to share what the Argihood is. We have a new resident meet and greets where we actually have, in homeowners’ association we also do architectural for metals for your yards. The Argihood, actually our farm team is actually a part of that and they have a presentation that they give to the new residence. It shares with them about the farm and what they can actually Install and plant in their own yards, or in their patio areas and that’s become like the biggest laugh wow factor of that event. It might be the wine but it also might be the other part of the farm.
Brett: I’m listening to your experience, not only am I listening to your experience but I am feeling the experience, after having been there with my family I have a better feel for this. So following up with that, what do you say to people now who are listening to this podcast, this interview who have no idea what Agrihoods are, they’re about to move into a conventional neighborhood. You have to at least extend them an invite to say hey come check this out, you guys. There’s something for everybody but what I have found Amaya, is that not one person I have spoken to who lives in that Agrihood has ever said, you know what this isn’t for me, I think I’m going to back to my conventional cookie cutter subdivision. It’s been the complete opposite. Everyone we’ve spoken to has said, you know what I’m so glad I found this lifestyle because now I know that I could never go back to the conventional cookie-cutter lifestyle.
Amaya: You’re absolutely right and I think people find that even though they may not want to put their fingers in the dirt because many don’t. The fact that they can purchase produce from the farm stand, or the fact that it’s just there for its beauty to look at, and a lot of it is about education. I know my dad, we’re Italian and we had the backyard. When people came to our home you always took them in the backyard and walk them through the garden that was always what we did. I have an eight-year-old and nine-year-old grandkids and when I bring them to our farms here, the biggest experience for me is to walk them through the farm and to say this is basil smell it, taste it, this is rosemary, this is a carrot let us pull it. That to me the experience is and the education that they learned that it’s not only where you get your food from the grocery store, but this is actually how it’s grown. So that educational part is so exciting. And we have a lot of our 55 plus that maybe haven’t gardened in the past are really excited about doing this with their grandkids or sharing this experience with their grandkids.
Brett: Just like you said, you remember the times past where you had that experience with your parents and grandparents, that whole experience stayed with you for the rest your life, and that’s what we’re looking at now for our son. It’s a whole other experience, you can go to the grocery store and pick up organic vegetables off the shelf or you can put him in an environment to see how food is grown, get him involved with other free range kids. It’s a whole lifestyle that we’re so attracted to. So, I want to say thank you for your time for sharing that with us. What’s the vision looking like? What’s there for the future? What’s coming up?
Amaya: Oh my, so we have our 3rd planning area that we’re planning for right now actually and that may open around maybe 2021 or late 2021. And really taking a look at kind of the holistic approach, it is going to our largest planning area that’s going to be perhaps 7,000 units for the size of Ladera ranch. And really taking again that thoughtful planning approach not only from demographics, and what consumers are looking for, what our landform is, and how we continue to integrate the ranching and orchard heritage, and that legacy as well as the continuation of the types of amenities, parks and recreational, amenities and clubhouse and things like that, that people want. So it’s really an exciting time. Also maybe just a little bit on planning area 3 is the home to Cow Camp.
Cow Camp is our historic site for ranch operations, so this is now the heart of the ranch. So we are taking a really careful and thoughtful approach how that to be becomes incorporated because we’re having to balance the integration of conservation of land, residential development, mixed-use, and retail as well as ranching operations and it’s not for the faint of heart. There’s a lot to take a look at, there’s a lot of overlapping needs and constraints and things like that. We are up for the task.
Brett: Awesome stuff! Amaya tells people how they can get a hold of you, the website, and social media, share that with the world, please.
Amaya: Oh so you can find us at, Ranchomissionviejo.com, I believe we’re also unveiling our new website at the end of the month so please check it out. And our visitors center, Ann and Charlie and their team are available at (949) 768-1882, and of of course, I’m Amaya Genaro, director of the community services. You can reach me anytime at ranch headquarters at (949) 240-3363. I would love to hear from you.
Brett: Awesome stuff! And I can’t wait to tell Lena and Cash about the little invite you extended to us. They are going to be so thrilled and excited to know that they can come back and play in those playgrounds and see some more cool stuff there at Rancho Mission Viejo. So thank you again we appreciate that. Have a great afternoon. If there’s anything you want to catch up with in the future please just shoot a quick e-mail and we’d love to have you back on and share that vision with the world.
Amaya: Awesome, thank you so much, Brett, thank you for what you and your wife and your son are doing. It’s great, we love it.
Brett: Thank you so much, we appreciate that. Have a great day.
Amaya: Alright, thank you, bye.