Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Veggie thieves raiding community gardens

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THE green thumbs of local gardeners are being stymied by the sticky fingers of thieves.

Gardeners in community gardens and allotment gardens across the city are finding the fruits of their labours are being harvested by persons unknown.

Whether it is tomatoes, corn, cucumbers or carrots, varmints on two legs not four are making off with produce they didn't produce.

Brenda Tate, who has rented a garden plot from the city in Paulicelli Park in Transcona for three years, said she couldn't believe it when she and her husband went there on Tuesday to harvest their crops.

"Everything was gone," Tate said Thursday.

"All of the cucumbers, beets, carrots and potatoes. They even took our only three pumpkins -- and they were still green."

Tate said they learned their lesson the first year and didn't plant tomatoes again after losing most of them after they turned red, but this is the first time they lost everything.

Tate said it's not a great way to end the gardening season.

"We do everything. We have to water it and we weed it. We have a beautiful garden in our backyard, but we wanted to plant more -- we took at least 50 pounds of zucchinis to Winnipeg Harvest last year. I'm just going to focus on our backyard now.

"I'm done renting a garden plot."

Tate is not alone. Across the city there have been reports of gardens being ravaged, whether it is plots in Riverview or the University of Manitoba.

The city rents out 190 plots to people and manages 18 garden sites across Winnipeg. Rates are $42 per season for a serviced plot that is tilled, or $28.35 for a plot that is untilled.

Civic spokeswoman Tammy Melesko said they have received a few more reports of theft this year than others.

"It is possible these reports have a higher profile because the thefts this year have been more serious than normal," Melesko said.

"A few gardeners have indicated that they would not renew."

Winnipeg police Const. Eric Hofley said the issue is clear to police.

"Whether in a backyard or community garden, if the person taking the produce is not the owner then he or she is committing theft," Hofley said.

"Is the person taking the produce because they need it for food or are they simply stealing it and later throwing it away? While both are committing theft, hopefully those involved with the community garden would be more understanding of the former than the latter."

Darlene Karp, vice-chairwoman of the Millennium Gardens, a series of raised and unraised garden beds tended by about 80 seniors in North Kildonan, said some garden thieves have expressed surprise when they are caught red-handed with hot produce.

"They say 'Isn't this a community garden for everyone?' " Karp said.

"That's their answer for everything. We have a sign up but we'll get another sign this winter to say the produce is for our gardeners only. Maybe that will help."

Karp said whether it was at their former location at Henderson Highway before Chief Peguis Trail was extended, or their new one on Douglas Avenue, they have had produce disappear. She said the thefts have been reduced since they moved because there are residents on the other side of the street who keep their eyes out for non-gardeners there.

"They (the garden thieves) could get their own plots, but I guess that would be too much work," she said.

kevin.rollason@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 20, 2013 B1

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Updated on Friday, September 20, 2013 at 7:49 AM CDT: Adds photo, adds video

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