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Aliso Viejo officials are turning one of the city’s last open spaces into a callback to Orange County’s agricultural roots, complete with historic landmarks and an urban farming area that members of the community and school kids will have access to.

City Council members at their meeting on Wednesday will hear an update on the project from city staff. 

Redevelopment of the site — currently 7 acres of open green space and 1800s-era farming structures — is well underway, but has been decades in the planning. 

The ranch project is an effort to establish sustainable urban food cultivation and agriculture through aquaponics, but would also add to south Orange County’s vast stock of expansive parks and recreational areas. 

Meanwhile areas throughout central and north Orange County continue to see a shortage in parks and recreational areas that are on par in quality and upkeep with those in the south. 

Residents in cities like Santa Ana, for example, have repeatedly asked officials to invest more in parks and open space. People took it upon themselves to get into urban farming as well, when community organizers set up La Granjita community garden. 

Aliso Viejo broke ground on the ranch project in November 2018. 

A tentative grand opening is set for May this year. 

The idea is to set up a working farm with fruit orchards, vegetable gardens and ponds that would include around 2,000 tilapia for harvest, with plans to partner with the nearby middle and high schools for education programs. 

And much of the produce raised from the farm is set to be donated to local food banks, which have been in high demand since the coronavirus pandemic decimated the economy. 

The City Council has approved a rental fee structure for private use of the ranch, with the income generated to be used to recover the city’s operating expenses.  

Response to the facility has been overwhelming, staff said in a report attached to Wednesday’s meeting agenda, with approximately $70,000 in business booked so far, “which includes a mix of resident and non-resident non-profit events, birthday parties, and weddings.”

For information about how to access the meeting and hear the city’s updates and progress on the project, click here. 

Brandon Pho is a Voice of OC staff writer and corps member at Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at bpho@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @photherecord.

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