The dirt

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Emilia Neudorff with Lt. Ryan & Allison Struck_2Canoga Park Adult Rehabilitation Center celebrates ribbon cutting at Sustainable Farm and Monarch Habitat

By Chadwick Phillips – 

The men of the Salvation Army Adult Rehabilitation Center (ARC) in Canoga Park were joined by members of the community to celebrate the completion of the ARC Sustainable Farm and Monarch Butterfly Habitat on June 21.

At $10 a plot, the Canoga Park ARC recently purchased three plots of land at the community gardens located at the Orcutt Ranch Horticultural Center in West Hills, California.

A Salvation Army advisory council board member, Emilia Neudorff, was instrumental in creating and managing the community garden along with the men of the ARC.

“The idea to do a community garden came from my love of gardening,” Neudorff said. “Gardening is a very therapeutic thing for me to do, so I thought maybe it would be a good thing for the men too.”

Neudorff aims to grow fruits and vegetables to take back to the ARC to share and eat. She emphasizes the phrase “redeeming the dirt’,” using the garden as a way to help save lives and give back.

“Redeeming the dirt is a saying that kind of parallels with what the Lord is doing in our lives; he is redeeming our dirt,” Neudorff said.

According to Neudorff, this farming project has been successful for the last few months, providing pride and satisfaction in hard work with biblical lessons to parallel the work.

Daigh Walker_2Opening in March, the men of the Canoga Park ARC have come to the garden every Saturday for two hours to plant, water, and maintain the land. The garden includes a multitude of produce including peppers, tomatoes, green beans, cucumbers, and watermelon.

“I can definitely see our goals starting to be met,” Neudorff said. “I wanted this project to be like a work therapy where the men could just come outdoors and forget their troubles and I can see that happening.”

Daigh Walker, a beneficiary of the ARC for about five months, has worked on the garden since it opened.

“I’ve been here since we broke ground,” Walker said. “We started from the bottom having just seeds and a plot of dirt and now we can make a pot of soup from what we have grown.”

Walker sees the garden as a place to get away from everyday life and an opportunity to work on his hands and knees in the dirt and fresh air. An electrician by trade, Walker said he has put 45 hours of work into the garden, volunteering as often as he can.

“This project gives me some type of hope that there is community out there,” Walker said. “It’s rewarding to me and I’m proud to be a part of something that is going to help other men not just right now but hopefully for generations.”

Walker is excited to bring his young son to the garden and teach him about planting and harvesting.

“When my son used to bring his plants and seeds home from school, we would go by the directions on the package or by guessing,” Walker said. “Now, I’ll be able to bring him here and show him how much I’ve learned. I’m gaining so much from this.”

Walker said the best part about working on the garden is being able to work with Neudorff.

“Mrs. Emilia is excellent,” Walker said. “Her heart and mind are in it. She gets it to where the guys can understand how to do it. It’s beautiful how she had brought these men, men with issues, to come back to life and how to put our hearts into something.”

Although the project is still in its early stages, the hope is that it will lead to a new learning experience called “Farm to Table.” Neudorff, along with the men, are planning to use the crops in making jams, jellies, and preserves. The men will not only receive knowledge on how to cook and can fruits, but will also learn the sales and marketing skills needed for a small business venture.

“I’m just very proud of the men,” Neudorff said. “They come out and they work so hard. They just give a lot of what they have to give and they’re just very positive about it.”

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