Men cultivate garden of eatin’

Volunteers grow 12,000 pounds of produce and give it away
By: Gloria Young Journal Staff Writer
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They call themselves the League of Ordinary Gentlemen. But they’re making an extraordinary contribution to the community. In the past year, Virgil Traynor, Bart Ruud and a group of Auburn volunteers have created a garden and harvested more than 12,000 pounds of produce for the Salvation Army and the Seniors First Meals on Wheels program. This year they’re doubling the size of the garden. Traynor and Ruud, both retired, had worked on the Interstate 80 Auburn sign project in 2008. “We then wanted to find something else to do,” Traynor said this week. A garden seemed like a good idea. Traynor had the land — nine acres with good water flow, he said. Even though, “None of us were gardeners,” he said. So they called on the expertise of Earle Eisley at Eisley Nursery and Don Yamasaki, KAHI’s “garden guru.” “We wouldn’t have been able to accomplish it without the help of Eisley and Yamasaki,” Traynor said. Once plans got off the ground, it became truly a community project. Ruud and Paul Ebert rototilled the site. Tom and Grace Roemer painstakingly removed the numerous rocks. Don Robinson Sand and Gravel sent two dump trucks to haul compost. Other volunteers included Jon Rubenzer, Jim Bennett, Bob Snyder, Angela Atteberry and Stevie Rae. Jackie Traynor, Virgil’s wife, also lent a hand. The next question was what to do with all the vegetables. That’s when Dan Shafer suggested the Seniors First Meals on Wheels program. Later, Angela Atteberry, Auburn Salvation Army board member, stepped up. “If you can pick it, you can have it,” Atteberry, a member of the Salvation Army board, said Traynor told her. The bounty summer crop produced squash, tomatoes, lettuce, radishes, eggplant, corn, peppers and a dozen other vegetables. Then in late August, they put in a winter garden that included, among other things, broccoli, peas, cauliflower, chard and bok choy. Now, this spring, they’re expanding the project from a quarter-acre to a half-acre. This time they’re also putting in flowers and herbs, Atteberry said. Tuesday and Thursday mornings are the typical workdays for the volunteers. But Traynor spends many more hours weeding and performing garden tasks. “Anyone who wants to volunteer and work under supervision is welcome to lend a hand on the work days,” Atteberry said. One thing that has been an immense benefit is the availability of water. “I’m very fortunate to have one of the few places that has ground flowing water,” Traynor said. “So we have all the water we need. It would have been watering the pasture anyway.” They’re keeping the garden as organic as possible — they don’t use herbicides or pesticides. Along the way they’ve learned a lot, Ruud said. “Corn takes 70 days to mature,” he explained. “We could have zucchini grown in six weeks. So we’ll be capitalizing on the length of time it takes to grow things and have rotations to make maximum use of the land.” It also has been a bit of a lesson in chemistry. When the corn came up stunted, it proved to be a lack of nitrogen in the soil. “We followed advice for applying nitrogen for top growth, phosphorus for root growth and flowering as well as the application of potassium for root growth,” Ruud wrote in a garden report. They also discovered the importance of weather in growing things. Currently they’re closely watching soil temperature to decide when to plant as they monitor the progress of the 390-plus hills of potatoes growing at the site, Ruud said. Critter control was another issue. Traynor put up an electric fence to keep out the deer, skunks and raccoons. A couple of wild turkeys flew in, but fortunately didn’t do any damage, he said. The food program has given a healthy boost to Meals on Wheels and the Salvation Army food program at a time when it is needed more than ever. The freshly picked produce is distributed five days a week. “Everything has moved — even okra,” Ruud said. There’s an ample walk-in cooler for temporary storage. And nothing has gone to waste. For the items in overabundance, Robert Frew offered the use of the Latter Day Saints cannery. Ron Martini, vice president of human resources at Sierra College, took on responsibility for canning the excess peppers. “We had cases of peppers,” Ruud said. The food has made a real difference for the many people in need “With donations down in general (because of the recession) this has been an extraordinary help,” Atteberry said. In the past, the Salvation Army was reluctant to accept produce, but the success of the Traynor garden has brought about the creation of the Share the Bounty program. Now growers and home farmers can drop off fruits and vegetables at the Salvation Army office on Sutter Street and it will it be distributed to those in need, Atteberry said. “Everyone who has been involved has a streak of benevolence and appreciates the opportunity to give back to the community,” Ruud said. “When you’re playing with the soil and all the green things and providing things that can be used, there’s satisfaction in that.” On April 16, the Traynors are hosting cookout to say thank-you to all the employees of Eisley Nursery and Robinson Sand & Gravel. Gloria Young can be reached at