Rookie plantsmen till land to stock larder

Meals on Wheels Seniors Nutrition Project reaps benefits of bounty of fresh produce
By: Gus Thomson Journal Staff Writer
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A year ago, it was pastureland with horses grazing contentedly in the shade of a row of liquidambars. But then someone planted the seed of an idea to turn that patch of unproductive grass and dirt into a garden producing everything from corn and beets to peas and carrots. For the owner of that piece of pasture and a core group of friends known for rolling up their sleeves on other volunteer projects in the Auburn area, that seed of an idea grew over the winter and blossomed in late April. The earth was scraped, tilled and fertilized before planting began. Veterinarian Virgil Traynor, who owns the property, said the group didn’t know how to build a garden and much of the work since then has meant learning as they grow. But as the spring turns to summer, the small group of rookie gardeners is finding success in early crops of radishes, beans and lettuce, early challenges from slow-to-grow corn and gophers, and the promise of producing much more than they’ll need. Bart Ruud, a retired college counselor who is part of the group, said the work will be producing food for the Meals On Wheels Seniors Nutrition Project. That will mean fresh-picked tomatoes and other veggies for seniors who may not be able to get out to shop, he said. Ruud said the core group – which also includes Bob Snyder, Jon Rubenzer and Jim Bennett – isn’t emulating White House gardener Michelle Obama. The idea was being nurtured long before she established her garden on the White House grounds. The garden group has worked on several local projects, including the replica mine tower at the entrance to the city and, more recently, the State Theater stage. The group also meets once a month to talk and perhaps come up with a new project in the community. Ruud said the garden has been a gratifying project for him – and not just because it is producing vegetables for Meals On Wheels. “There’s something nurturing about growing green things,” Ruud said. “You get to understand nature, the weather patters, the soil. It’s a learning opportunity and it’s good for the soul.” Snyder said the group – augmented by many other helpers – has built a bond that comes from working together regularly. For the gardening project, Earle Eisley of Eisley’s Nursery has visited to offer expertise, as has master gardener Don Yamasaki. Dan Schaefer, who volunteers with Meals On Wheels, suggested the donations to that organization. Paul Ebert helped out with a tractor and a truck to haul compost. Stevie Rea also helped out, as did Traynor’s wife, Jackie, running errands and suggesting plantings of everything from mint and basil to flowers. The Journal’s Gus Thomson can be reached at