Program uses Auburn community garden to teach adults skills

Project benefits area from seed to fruit
By: Jon Schultz, Journal Staff Writer
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For four years, Virgil Traynor’s community garden has donated produce to the Salvation Army and sold to local restaurants with proceeds going to the Auburn Community Cancer Endowment Fund, but it’s not just the end product that is benefiting people.

The garden welcomes volunteers from Achieve Independent Milestones & Associates, or AIM, allowing developmentally disabled adults to gain valuable pre-employment experience while maintaining the plants that make around 22,000 pounds of produce annually.

Traynor affectionately calls them the “A Team.”

The AIM group is there every Monday, working on the two quarter-acre gardens on his property off Winding Way.

On Monday, about a half dozen men and women worked the dirt, pulled weeds and plucked rocks under the warm morning sun in the freshly-planted gardens.

Beth tossed rocks into Paul’s bucket, while Daniel cleaned up the weeds left in the wake of specialist Alec Younger, who broke a sweat swinging his garden hoe at a fervent pace. Loren also swung away with her hoe as well, between rows of plants.

She admits her favorite part is hanging out in the nice weather.

“The garden’s really not my thing but I still do it,” said Loren, a 24-year-old from Grass Valley. She said the experience would help if she applies to a job that involves landscaping.

The clients, whose last names will not be printed due to health privacy laws, worked under the supervision of AIM specialists Younger, Brandon Wautlet and Cathy Sanchez.

AIM has around 60 clients in the region, with branches in Grass Valley, Roseville, Truckee and Yuba City. In Auburn, the clients have volunteered in various capacities, whether it’s washing cars for the Auburn Police Department or working at a hospice facility.

The gardening experience is a “huge” asset for them, said Wautlet, of Auburn.

“Just the physical labor part is big for the guys, and the idea that all this stuff goes to the community, people that need it, and it’s all donated, that’s amazing for them,” he said. “And for them to be able to put this on the resume, just be able to come out and be working in the sun (is beneficial).”

Paul, 34, of Auburn, enjoys being at the garden, and when asked what his favorite part was, he said it was pulling weeds and rocks, as they were doing that day. Paul said the Traynors are “awesome” and so are the people he works with at the garden.

He said it is a good resume builder.

“I can learn new skills that I need to learn,” Paul said. “And do it right.”

Traynor, a member of the Auburn Rotary Club, started the community garden project about four years ago. It is run largely on volunteer time and donations.

On Saturday, 35 members of the Gold Country Rotary Club planted the garden plots for the Rotarians At Work Day. Eisley Nursery donated 570 tomato plants and 300 egg plants this year, as it has done in the past.

The “A Team” volunteering is perhaps a cherry (tomato) on top.

“Whatever work there is to do, they do it. Weed, plant, fertilize, pick, weigh, help distribute – whatever,” Traynor said. “I really believe that even if they didn’t contribute anything it’s a big plus to have them out, getting next to nature and doing constructive work.”


Jon Schultz can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @Jon_AJNews