Theft in Community Gardens

26 June 2024

A community garden is when there is a piece of land that a variety of people come into in order to culitvate flowers or edibles. Frequently it is a donated area that would otherwise be unused. In most cases individuals have a specific plot that they are responsible for. They may grow flowers, vegetables, or other (legal) plants. Each person has the duty to tend this small area and they own whatever is grown there.

Sometimes these common areas experience theft or vandalism. This can prove discouraging to those who have worked hard. What to do?

Post signs that this is private property. Some people may not realize that it is not open to the public for consumption. Be sure the signs are in different languages and use visuals. You can also include some type of explanation about how you can become a member of the group, encouraging participation rather than a negative image of your work. Not every culture will understand the concept. They may consider it public property and hunger will do strange things. Some suggested language includes:

  • Private Property
  • Produce picking is theft
  • Harvesting without permission is theft.

Make friends with the neighbors. Having extra eyes on the area when gardeners are not around is a definite plus. If the neighborhood likes you and the idea of having you around, they are more likely to call the police if they see theft or vandalism. Open the garden for a tour at the height of the season and serve simple refreshments. See if there is a neighborhood watch group that your members can join. Place some seating outside the garden but with a full view of the area. That will encourage people to sit and watch the workers and decrease the chance that the area will be unattended.

community garden

Set up a plot that is just for someone not actually involved in the community gardens. In other words, allow a non-participant the opportunity to have food. Setting up a box for surplus or free fruits and/or vegetables can also work.

If you have the financial resources, enclose the area in a fence. You will need to install a chain link fence since any wood or plastic panels will result in too much shade to grow edibles. An alternative is to plant a border of prickly or stinging plants like rose bushes. Minimize the entrances to the area. Use a lock that needs a code to open and change the code with each year, when gardeners leave the program, or periodically. Surveillance cameras are recommended, but pricey and can easily be damaged but if you have good relations with the neighbors, you may be able to access data from their doorbell cams.

Be sure to have a clear set of rules about who is and isn’t allowed access. It is also a good idea to encourage regular harvesting or to arrange with someone else to help. That offers less temptation to miscreants.

Encourage the gardeners to work at different times and days. This extends the amount of time that the area is occupied.

Lighting is suggested to eliminate dark spots. If possible, remove obstructions or large shrubs where people can hide or lie in wait.

If damage occurs, try to repair it as quickly as possible. Notify the police of any intrusions. Keep a sheet where the volunteers can record any incidents.

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