Thefts discourage gardeners at Delano community plots

With sunglasses propped on his head and a mug of icewater in his hand, Jim Martinson braved the heat Wednesday to care for his plot in the Delano community garden.

"The gardeners that are here every day or two, and they spend hours watering and weeding and putting all their hard labor into it," said Martinson, the garden's manager.

That hard work is why it's discouraging when people steal from the garden, he said, which is what happened sometime Sunday night or early Monday morning.

A thief took all the garden's onions, except for a few that were hidden by other plants.

"I don't know what anybody needs with 300 onions all at once," Martinson said.

The onions were still too small to sell, he said.

Some community gardens grow food with the intent to give it away. However, the Delano garden exists mainly for people who rent property and have no room to garden, Martinson said.

Since the garden, located behind Senior Services Inc., started in 2007, gardeners have seen fruits or vegetables go missing. About a month ago, the group noticed that someone had taken garlic.

The most recent theft differed, though, because it required more planning, Martinson said.

When individual fruits or vegetables go missing, Martinson said the gardeners figure someone who really needed the food took it. However, that's still disrespectful to their hard work, he said.

"If someone was really desperate for food and asked us for something, we would share it," he said. "When they just come and take it without asking, that's a completely different matter."

The garden is offering a cash reward for information; however, Martinson said he doubts anyone saw the theft. Since the incident, he said, he has received offers of security cameras for the garden.

Even before the theft, the garden had planned to build a fence. The garden will first fence the two sides closest to the intersection of Handley and Texas streets. Next year, it plans to cover the other two sides. But even with a fence, Martinson said, people could still break in.

"Fences only keep out honest people," he said. "I don't think that will stop someone like this."

He said the theft disheartened him because one of the 10 gardeners is so discouraged that she doesn't plan to come back next year.

Susan Schoket, who started the Delano garden through the nonprofit organization Infinite Growth Opportunities, said the phrase "community garden" often confuses people. It doesn't mean the garden is free for anyone to take, she said.

"What it means is people in the community get together and grow vegetables, and they share an experience that's wonderful," she said.

Extension agent Rebecca McMahon said several factors affect theft from community gardens, like the garden's location or amount of protection. She said she doesn't hear about theft from the gardens often, but people probably don't report it.

Schoket, who works with several other gardens through her organization, said she sees some theft at the other gardens, but nothing like this.

She said people should remember that the food in a garden is for the gardeners.

"This is their therapy," she said. "This is their food.