Theft from community gardens is again on the rise here in Delta and Richmond. Just the other week I was consulted on how we combat food theft at the Ladner Community Garden. Last year was the first time we had someone pinching vegetables and they were caught. Luckily they didn’t return this year, yet.
So why is it we think theft is okay? Sometimes the public walks through gardens and sees food ready to pick but it isn’t being harvested in a timely manner. Perhaps like the Ladner Community Garden, you may want to add to your garden rules that the vegetables have to be harvested. They are not planted to just look pretty, they hare planted to be harvested and eaten. If you cannot keep up with your harvest why not donate to the food bank or another needy charity? I know only too well that 12 zucchini can be a lot to handle.
At the Ladner Community Garden, the children’s garden grows strictly for sharing for the needy so we make sure our allotment holders know they can donate any surplus vegetables each week. We have also developed signage for the garden so people know that the gardens are private. As a learning tool, we let some of our crops go to seed so it may appear that we are not harvesting. In September, the children come to learn how to collect seed from the vegetable garden. We are teaching them to be resourceful by saving seed for the next year. We are not letting the plant go to waste.
I think the key to stopping theft in public spaces like community gardens and school gardens is education. Often people think it’s for the community when people actually put a lot of time and money into maintaining their garden beds. There is nothing more disappointing than seeing the green pepper you were going to use for dinner disappear just before you were going to harvest it. Above are the few carrots that were pulled from the children’s garden. Whoever pulled them thought they were too small and left them on the ground to wither. Theft doesn’t happen only to smaller gardens but also to farmers as well. Only last year did a farmer lose a crop of potatoes. Now to take a huge amount of potatoes from a farmer’s field takes planning and equipment. Many would think, oh well, the farmer can spare some, but if you knew how hard they worked to get potatoes planted, harvested, washed and packaged ready to ship you may think again before pinching from a farmer. Its hard work. Trust me my brother is a farmer and they work very long days to get their crops to our tables.
It was just this morning that I received a disturbing email from a friend. She coordinates a school garden here in Ladner and someone has been pinching vegetables. The first incident involved someone taking two pumpkins. Think about it, its only August, the pumpkins wouldn’t even be ready yet. The person was caught in the act but not before both pumpkins were detached from the vine. What do you do with a green pumpkin? Ideas would be appreciated. The pumpkins were being grown to teach the children how to make pumpkin soup in October. Now they will have to buy a couple of pumpkins in order to do the lesson. If you have worked with children you will know how excited they are about pumpkins. They watch them grow and get so excited when its time to take them back to class. It’s sad that someone had to spoil their fun.
Not only did the pumpkins get removed but someone thought it was okay to come harvest a bunch of potatoes and carrots. I guess they didn’t know that this was part of the pumpkin soup recipe as well.
As I think of ways to deter theft in community and school gardens, I wonder why we think theft in this way is okay. Theft is defined as the act of stealing; specifically : the felonious taking and removing of personal property with intent to deprive the rightful owner of it. Now I wouldn’t go into someones backyard and take their vegetables. Neither would I think it okay to walk into a farmer’s field to pick corn. This is private property and belongs to someone else. Community gardens are also private in that they often lease the property from the community they live in. They often have a lease for such property. The only difference is that they are often located within a larger parcel of public property. I love seeing people walk through our community garden. For me it provides a teaching experience and allows me to talk to them and establish that reconnection with growing food. We hope we never get to the point that the garden is behind a locked gate.
This month we are fencing our community garden. It was always in our design plans and wasn’t intended to keep people out. We will always have an open entrance at the front of our garden. We are also planting a hedgerow around the community garden to add beauty to a garden with lots of hardscape. This planting will include plants with thorns as a bit of a deterrent but then Roses are so beautiful, we won’t mind the thorns from a distance.
I still think that if someone really needs food and can’t afford it we should think about planting border gardens just for the picking. Perhaps a garden around the perimeter of the community garden that can be picked from the outside? Or maybe we need to start a food forest like Seattle so people can help themselves to fresh fruit and vegetables. With all the unused land in Delta, why not?