Jim Genasci was a rancher and his wife Mary was a city girl. They wanted their sons Geno and Angelo to grow up with a big view of the world.
“Rural kids don’t know urban kids, but urban kids don’t know rural either,” Jim says. The Genascis wanted their children to feel comfortable in both.
The couple met when Mary’s career took her from her hometown of Vacaville to the high desert of Reno, Nevada, where Jim had recently returned from studying Italian in Florence and visiting family in Italy, France, and Switzerland. He began to take over management of the family ranch in 1974. Jim and his father Attilio would later partner with the California Rangeland Trust to conserve the family’s historic land so it would remain a working ranch forever.
“The wonderful thing about the Rangeland Trust is they are ranchers and farmers,” Jim says. “They know ranching. I never feel like I have to look over my shoulder. They’re not there to run the ranch. They share the mindset we have—a love of the land.”
Jim managed the ranch while Mary worked as a teacher, principal, and eventually retired as County Superintendent of Schools. They forged a unique life together.
“We are not your stereotypical ranchers,” Mary laughs. “We don’t rope, we don’t have horses. We walk our cows so they are gentle and happy. Jim has been nicknamed around Sierra Valley as the ‘walking cowboy.’”
Most summers while their boys were growing up, Jim and Mary would leave the ranch in the care of Jim’s parents, Attilio and Angie, and spend two weeks in a foreign country. They prioritized giving their boys valuable life experiences over material luxuries. Together, the Genascis explored Europe, the United States, Mexico, Central America, Southeast Asia, and the Caribbean. An avid scuba diver, Mary was always on the hunt for her “perfect island.”
“We would go to the poor areas,” she says. “We almost never stayed at really fancy resorts; we liked small places. We liked to meet people, talk with them, and listen to them. Those travels really helped form our sons.”
Education was another priority. Jim’s grandparents had sacrificed to ensure that Attilio and his siblings could attend college—a major achievement for any family of their era, let alone Italian immigrant dairy farmers.
“They said, ‘If you want to ranch, you will come back as a choice, not just because you have nothing else to do,’” Mary says of her in-laws. “I wanted my kids to be able to flow between both urban and rural settings.”
Today, that’s exactly what they do. Geno attended Stanford University and works as a primary care physician. “Those trips allowed me to understand and respect the broader world that may not be visible from the confines of our rural community,” Geno says. “I believe that they helped me to be an empathetic and effective physician.
Angelo would attend U.C. Berkeley and work for Senator Dianne Feinstein in Washington, D.C. for a number of years before moving to Sacramento, where he now runs Right Hand—a travel business that coordinates rural experiences for urban travelers. He also serves as co-chair of the Rangeland Trust Legacy Council. His unique experiences provide a valuable perspective for millennial ranchers.
“What does a working landscape look like in 2018 or 2030?” he says. “The stereotypes aren’t going to hold in the future. With affordable travel and new technology, people see that there’s a world outside their rural communities.”
Angelo sees entrepreneurship and innovation as the path forward for millennials. “Innovation will inform the next face of leadership and stewarding,” he predicts. “People are taking their knowledge and applying it back to a rural landscape that has for so long been shuttered.”
The Genascis raised their sons to flourish wherever their gifts and interests took them. Geno’s work ethic, compassion, and rich life experience inform his work as a doctor in an urban environment. Angelo is among the leading voices inspiring today’s young ranchers and rural entrepreneurs. He sums up his ethos with a simple phrase: “Ranch roots, urban wings.” His parents gave him both.
“So many issues in our political discourse are really caused by a lack of friendship, relationship, and understanding of each others’ worlds,” Angelo says. “A working landscape is a place where we can meet together—a place where we can agree. I think that’s a really powerful way to talk about conservation.
As for Jim and Mary, these days the couple is able to maintain the freedom they love while managing the family ranch due to their partnership with the Rangeland Trust. But just as anyone who knows what it means to love and steward land can attest, for Jim Genasci, there is no place like home. “When you get away and see other places, somehow it increases your love of the valley itself. You see its uniqueness. You come to see and appreciate and love the ranch more.” It’s the kind of bond that has kept open spaces thriving in California for generations, and will continue to teach and inspire the land stewards of tomorrow.
Photo credits: Angelo Genasci, Richard Levine Photography