Why Its Not Cool to Steal from a Community Garden

signage

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.

cabbage

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.

kale flowers

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.

carrots pilfered

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.

Ladner Elementary school garden

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.

fence posts

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?

17 thoughts on “Why Its Not Cool to Steal from a Community Garden

  1. This is a fantastic article. I think some theft occurs due to a lack of awareness or understanding (some seem to think ‘community garden’ means ‘garden for the community to help themselves to’ rather than understanding that it’s more like a community of gardeners that work together to plant and maintain that space in exchange for plot rental fees, soil and seed costs, and a lot of hard work).

    The more community gardens pop up, the more people will understand how they work. I’ve heard that some of the most central gardens in downtown Vancouver experience very little theft (not sure if this is still accurate) because everyone in the neighbourhood understands how they work, and wouldn’t dream of ruining such a beautiful space.

    Of course, some people are just lazy and entitled and feel free to take anything they see. But I think these people are greatly in the minority. A lot of publicity in local press deterred our garden pest last year, and I think this year has been much better!

    Also, I love the idea of planting a border garden where people who need food can help themselves.

  2. How sad to read about thefts from any garden but especially from one for children! I worry about the vegetables at the school garden that my Gardening Club children care for so enthusiastically. I’m really looking forward to seeing their faces when they get back to school in a few weeks and see 3 pumpkins growing in their patch 🙂

    One way I thought about to minimise the risk of theft, was to raise the profile of the garden and so, to that end, I write a newsletter once a term, letting parents know how well the vegetable garden is growing and how hard the children are working in it. I also submit an article for the local village bi-monthly newsletter, asking for help, thanking benefactors and talking about how things are doing.

    This means that the garden is now felt to be part of the community which, I hope, in some way helps to protect it. Maybe this is something you could do (unless of course you already do) – generate more community pride in your garden and a sense of duty to try and protect the childrens garden at the very least.

    Unfortunately there will always be those who feel they have the right to ‘take’ rather than work for something.

  3. Perhaps the school could talk to a local farmer about transplanting a couple of pumpkins this next week or two, so that at least the lesson could be finished.
    I am so sorry to read of this.

  4. Also, regarding the neighbours’ homes facing the community garden – maybe you could chat with them and let them know what’s been going on with the theft. They could act as “neighbourhood watch” for the garden. There are about 6 homes that look directly at the garden at Ladner El, might be helpful.

  5. Hardhead Vegan made a great post!

    In the Norfolk, VA area, there is one community garden in a low-income neighborhood notorious for its poverty and food insecurity. The founders deliberately left it without a fence, and every encourages anyone passing by to take what they need. It has brought the community together like nothing else and may even be contributing to the lower crime rates.

    Obviously, this garden exists in a different setting and context than your school garden used for a specific educational project. But either way, a sign, (like the cute one that you shared above or, conversely, one saying, “Open to all! Help yourself!”), is a helpful way for community gardens to clarify expectations.

    Also, I realize that signs shouldn’t be too long lest the message get diluted. But for a more positive spin, you might post that anyone interested in contributing to the garden, e.g. with volunteer time or cash or in-kind donations, should call a certain number. When people take part directly, it goes without saying that they deserve a share of the harvest, and you can budget sufficient quantities into your garden plan for that purpose.

  6. In our community garden along the edges we planted thornless blackberries, raspberries and choke berries (needed because they grow in the shade alongside one edge of the garden) to give to the community, but it hasn’t stopped thieves from plundering our beds. We have signs in most of the beds, but several of the gardeners have declined because it doesn’t make much difference. I have possibly had better results than some because 1) I grow “weird-looking” tomatoes, 2) I don’t stake them so the tomatoes aren’t so easy to see/find, 3) I don’t plant rows, but have a messy-looking bed…hard to know if that veggie leaf is something to eat or just a weed. Some sprinkle flour and/or cayenne on their plants–the cayenne deters bugs and might also deter folks who think it’s a disease, ditto flour. Others plant in-ground crops (sweet potatoes, etc.), others plant flowers and others let weeds grow–as a sort of camouflage. The only community gardens in this town than have no problem with theft is the one with a 10′ chain-link fence (and locked gate) with barbed wire on the top.

    1. These are great ideas for deterring theft at the garden. I am going to pass them along to our members. Thanks Jean!

  7. Maybe, if I didn’t pull hundreds of pounds of discarded produce from the dumpsters during end of season garden cleanup, I’d be more upset about pilferage from our community gardens.
    Most bountiful in garden dumpsters in my area: Peppers, tomatoes, tomatillos and potatoes.
    Most often the whole plant is tossed with the veggies still attached. I also see hundreds of pounds of melons that were enjoyed by the wasps instead of the gardener. I have asked many many gardeners why they throw their produce out. Not as good as at the store is the answer every time.

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