Forbidden Fruit

In the last few weeks, a string of thefts has shaken my community garden. First, one gardener lost her large, succulent tomatoes, the first of the season. Then someone else had yellow squash go missing. And just yesterday, I noticed a hole where my best red onions should be.

Usually, when gardeners tell stories of produce thefts, the culprit is a gopher or rabbit. But in this busy Jackson Park park, whatever is taking our produce is almost certainly a person.

Since the vegetables began to disappear, I have been struggling to figure out what, exactly, to feel toward the thief. Rage seems the most obvious, if unpleasant, way to respond. In other moments I have felt philosophical (What is a tomato anyway?), idealistic (We should just grow enough produce for everyone), and even naively hopeful (Maybe the thief made ratatouille).

So I’d like to ask you, dear readers, to provide counsel by way of your own stories: How have you reacted to the disappearance of your own vegetables? What’s the best way to cope with this almost inevitable disappointment?

Christopher Weber


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  • 7/26/2010 12:50 PM Katie wrote:
    I had to laugh when I read this article. A friend of mine and I actually have a running joke about me starting a garden that would be built in much the same way as this thief has been gathering veggies!

    When my husband and I first moved into our home, a broken furnace and the recession resulted in us having zero money to put into home or garden improvements for the first year we were there. The house had been abandoned a good year before we bought it and it came with a 17 x 40 foot postage-stamp backyard filled with a jungle of 6-foot-tall pig weeds and a gravel pit where an above ground pool had once sat. Not one to ever be happy siting on my hands, I challenged myself to create a "zero-spend garden". I had a good set of shears and a spade shovel from wedding gifts and the property had about 50 each of green hostas and orange daylillies. I used a crisper drawer from a old fridge in our basement as a hauling bucket to move gravel and dirt around, I weeded until I put holes in my gloves and I put out a plea on Facebook that I would happily swap green hostas and orange daylilies for ANY other kind of plant.

    That Facebook plea prompted a particularly mischievous friend of mine to offer to take me on a midnight garden raid of some of the nicer gardens in the neighborhood. Though I never took him up on it, (I could just imagine how heart broken I would be if someone stole some of my new, gifted plants), I was certainly tempted to create what he hilariously dubbed my "snatch garden."

    So to answer your question, I think if some person (or even some animal) snatches something from your garden you should take it as a compliment! Luckily my friends and family were generous enough that I never had resort to underhanded means of building my garden, but IF I had decided to create a snatch garden, I certainly would only have populated it with the best plants from my neighborhood!
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  • 7/30/2010 7:21 AM Jon wrote:
    I have a small plot in an urban community garden that is a bit of a respite from the speed and density of working downtown.

    Perhaps it is naive of me, but I have a great vision of the way that my small plot will yield amazing results.

    When I lost a couple basil plants a few years ago, I was pretty upset. Maybe it IS a little silly to be emotional over a plant that I could replace for $2 at Home Depot, but I felt like someone had stolen my pesto; or my caprese salad; or my spicy Thai basil leaves.
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  • 7/31/2010 9:37 AM Aunt Barb wrote:
    I had small sunflowers growing all along the back fence and my neighber behind me cut them down--probably they made her kitchen lovely.
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  • 7/31/2010 12:40 PM Ellen in Pittsburgh wrote:
    Ellen Placey Wadey It's not quite the same as produce, but every year for the past four years, someone has come and picked my spring tulips. It typically happens over the course of a week. The first year, I was crazy mad. I vowed to hide on the porch overnight and catch the culprit. I was furious at the person's disregard for my hard work. Why couldn't they just leave them for everyone to enjoy the beauty? Can't say that I don't still get mad -- I do. But I've resolved to planting more tulips -- enough (hopefully) so they can take some and leave the rest, which seems to be working.The best hope is that the person who took your garden's produce is someone who is hungry and needs the food. More likely it's someone who's only concerned about themselves and has no regard for the work that you've done to create this food. This might sound a little zen, but I've resolved myself to keep doing what nourishes me -- working in the garden (which has as much meaning for me as the outcome) -- and not to be turned inward and self-centered and angry by the thief because that just makes me more like them.
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  • 7/31/2010 12:44 PM Ellen in New Hampshire wrote:
    Jerks. Someone once stole my daughter's rhubarb by digging up the whole plant.
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  • 8/1/2010 5:18 PM Ramon wrote:
    In my garden I usually let the weeds grow pretty tall out of laziness, but also to hide some of the flowers. When I started my garden the flowers/plants were pretty obvious and they got pulled out of the ground regularly. Now that they're mixed in with "weeds" they're camouflaged and sometimes a passerby may only make off with a handful of weeds.
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  • 8/2/2010 9:14 AM Jeannie wrote:
    What about spoilers? Especially squirrel spoilers. I have a problem with critters that scratch, gouge, or take one bite out of a veggie, but leave the rest. Last year it was my pumpkins. Most of them succumbed to rot after being wounded. Only one survived. It was still a beautiful pumpkin, even with multiple scars.
    This year it’s my Cherokee Purple tomatoes. I have tried cutting around the bite area to excise the affected spot, but still can’t quite bring myself to bite into a fruit that may contain rodent bacteria. If they were hungry enough to eat the whole thing, I might feel more willing to share. But I think its just squirrel sport. I’m not sure whether I resent them more for veggie mutilation or for sabotage of the bird feeder. But that’s a different story.
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  • 8/2/2010 1:41 PM Hattie wrote:
    My daughter Sage recently picked every single tomato we had, not a one of them ripe. Such a helpful girl!
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