Veterans, community, team on Downtown Auburn garden in vacant lot

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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AUBURN CA - Long empty, a vacant lot in Downtown Auburn will be turned into a garden by veterans and community members. On Saturday, a small group of volunteers cleared weeds and used heavy machinery to scrape the soil bare in preparation for construction of raised beds on the Lincoln Way lot, just west of the State Theater. Justin Johnson, a Forgotten Soldier program advisory board member, said Monday that while it wasn?t planned, it was fitting that the work took place on national Armed Forces Day. In the months to come, Johnson said he and the Forgotten Soldier program in Auburn will be working to forge closer links with the community that will help see the garden?s first phase come to fruition. ?It takes a village,? Johnson said, quoting a much-repeated phrase inspiring communities to work together for a common goal. Dubbed the Veteran & Community Victory Garden for Healing & Hope, the initial phase of the effort will have 11 raised beds measuring four-by -12-feet in a lot of less than an acre. The parcel is owned by former Auburn dentist Paul Kodet and his wife, Patricia. Former Auburn residents, they now live in Southern California. Once the location of a hardware store that was lost in a fire, the land was bought by them as a possible office building seven years ago. The Kodets provided the lot at $1 a year. ?We agreed it was a good cause,? Patricia Kodet said. The Forgotten Soldier program has offices in a converted Victorian house next door and Johnson said that he had a vision one day of veterans growing crops and practicing yoga and tai-chi there. Donna Arz , executive director of the Forgotten Soldier program, pointed Johnson in the direction of city hall to find out who the lot owner was. After locating the Kodets and sharing his vision, Johnson and the program were able to negotiate a low lease amount and start preparing for a garden. Arz said plans are to not charge anything for community members to plant and nurture vegetables and fruit, but donations will be accepted. Veterans would be able to deliver the foods to seniors if they can?t get out. And some of the food would also be bound for food banks. Johnson said plans are to get service clubs involved and businesses to sponsor raised beds. A wide variety of crops are anticipated, including tomatoes, cucumbers, artichokes and potatoes. Already onboard are several coffee-serving restaurants, including Tsuda?s, Depoe Bay, Courthouse Coffee and Hilda?s, which have provided coffee grounds for compost. The front of the lot will be used for the raised beds and veterans will be getting therapeutic value out of tending the gardens, Johnson said. ?In the English Army, combat veterans are sometimes ordered to work in a garden,? Johnson said. ?In my experience, from what I?ve had to live through, yoga, tai-chi and gardening are very beneficial for the unseen would of post-traumatic stress disorder.?