Street Garden Thefts on the Rise

Street Garden Thefts on the Rise


Perhaps as a byproduct to tough economic times, there has been a recent influx of thefts at thousands of community gardens that have sprouted up nationwide at the behest of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign.

In Boston,  for example, thieves robbed harvest from several of its 3,500 plots across a span of 150 community gardens.  Community gardens have popped up and been robbed in New York CityChicago, Wichita, KansasMichigan and other areas. Most garden plots are available for free or a very modest price for low income residents of urban communities, but enterprising thieves don’t want to bother doing the hard work and would rather just pilfer others’ hard earned crops.

The problem of community garden theft has been so pervasive, some online sites like EcoLife have set up webpages to instruct community garden organizers how to fight back.  The University of Missouri put together a free toolkit for fighting garden theft.

Betsy Johnson, president of the South End/Lower Roxbury Open Space Land Trust and a board member of the American Community Gardening Association, told that the bigger the fruit or vegetable, the more likely it is to be stolen. She said pumpkins and beefy tomatoes are more enticing than spinach or Swiss chard.

Her group advised community gardeners to avoid planting tempting fruits and veggies on the edges and to veil them in the thicker foliage of less popular plants.

“It’s a problem that has worsened with the economy,’’  Paul Sutton, coordinator for open space and director of urban wilds at the Boston Parks and Recreation Department, which oversees five community gardens told “I hear about people picking tomatoes and squash in the middle of the night. It happens all the time.’’

Theft from urban gardens peak at harvest time as fruit and vegetables reach their final stages.

Community groups, churches, civic organizations and city and town governments set up these gardens as a direct result to the absence of grocery stores that sell fresh produce in many low income neighborhoods.

The Center of Urban Economics at the University of Texas has hypothesized that grocery store execs avoid building in low income neighborhoods out of fear they wouldn’t be economically stable.  Certainly, concerns about crime and theft may also factor into the decisions.   In one study organized by the Center, it mapped a county in Texas and noted no poor neighborhoods had grocery stores within one mile compared to more affluent neighborhoods that had three or more.

Findings like that pose a problem considering a 1999 study which showed that one third of low-income respondents shop within a mile of their home and another third within one to four miles.

Therefore, those without automobile transportation are stuck buying groceries from local corner stores and bodegas with limited options of healthy fruits and vegetables.

Access to healthy foods is key to curbing the obesity epidemic in Black communities, especially around the holidays.  For the entire nation, conventional knowledge is that most people gain from five to ten pounds between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day.  A 2010 study, challenged that notion, pointing out that that extra weight accumulates through the years and may be a major contributor to obesity later in life.

According to government statistics, more than half of all adult Americans are overweight, as defined by body mass index, said Jack A. Yanovski, M.D., Ph.D., principal investigator and head of the joint study by National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) and the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK).

“The prevalence of obesity in the U.S. has increased dramatically over the past decade,” Dr. Yanovski said.  Weight gain during adulthood may contribute to heart disease, diabetes, and other serious health problems.

Fruits and veggies are keen for staving off obesity. Organic foods, which some studies say are best, can be expensive.  Growing your own pesticide and insecticide free food in a community garden would be a great alternative.

Further, spoils from a FREE community garden harvest could combat childhood obesity.  Children who eat fresh organic foods are better off, research says.  A study  from the University of Washington in Seattle found that preschoolers fed conventional diets had six times the level of certain pesticides in their urine as those who ate organic foods.  With infant reproductive organs still forming and the brain developing through age twelve, with young livers and immune systems less able to rid bodies of contaminants, eating organic is more important for children and pregnant or breast-feeding women.

Ordinarily, only those who can afford to purchase these types of foods would benefit.

Truly, community gardens would be an ideal way for those who cannot afford organic fruits and veggies … which usually cost more money. states that there are 18,000 community gardens in the United States and provides information and tips on starting a garden in a community, or locating one and learning how to participate.