Vegetable patch thieves strike as some blame rising grocery costs of fresh fruit and veg

Every year Sally* grows two varieties of potatoes for herself and a single mother who struggles with day-to-day expenses, particularly since the cost of fresh fruit and vegetables has soared.

But the retiree was disheartened when she discovered between 10 and 12 kilograms of potatoes had been ripped from her garden at her home at Mornington in southern Tasmania.

“It’s disappointing to watch and wait for your potatoes to grow, only for thieving mongrels to come and steal them,” she said.

Sally said she grew the potatoes in the front yard of her home because that was where they got the most sun, but would now move the garden beds to the backyard due to the risk of theft.

“It’s taken a lot of work to get these vegetables to a point where they can be harvested, only for them to be stolen.”

Garden thefts on the rise

Nick Steven says the members at his local community garden are frustrated over thefts.(ABC News: Maren Preuss)

New Town community garden president Nick Stephen said while the theft of one or two vegetable plants does happen from time to time, he is concerned about an increase in the number of systematic thefts.

“Last weekend a member found that every single lettuce in the garden had been cut, which would have been around 50 or 60 lettuces,” he said.

“One member told me of their frustration when this happened after tending to the plants, growing and watering them for as long as they had”.

Zucchini growing in a community garden.
A Tasmanian study found people were swapping fruits and vegetables for unhealthy foods such as donuts, because it was cheaper.(ABC News: Maren Preuss)

Another community garden on the outskirts of Hobart has lost entire crops of carrots, garlic, corn and beetroot to thieves and is considering installing CCTV cameras or building fences around the property to prevent it from happening again.

“The thieves will often come with knives to cut the vegetables and they do a good job of it,” community garden president Chris Keen said.

“One member has essentially given up after he lost his crop to thieves…it destroys a sense of the community and we all become a bit more apprehensive”.

Chris Keen works in a community garden.
Chris Keen says he pulled up his garlic early because he realized someone “had been poking around”.(ABC News: Maren Preuss)

Some members have already taken matters into their own hands by putting up signs or installing fences and netting around their garden bed in a bid to discourage thieves.

“I pulled up all of my garlic early because I noticed someone had been poking around in my garden and a few people had theirs stolen from neighboring beds,” Mr Keen said.

“The culture of the garden is to be open and encourage the community to come in and share their knowledge… so this lack of trust is discouraging”.

These two community gardens regularly donate excess vegetables and herbs to charities, international students and migrants who are new to Tasmania.

It means these garden thefts not only impact individual members, but could potentially lead to less production for people who find it difficult to afford fruits and vegetables.

“You can understand people are doing it tough or are hungry, but these thefts take away the growers opportunity to donate and do something nice for someone else,” Mr Stephen said.

A Tasmanian Police spokesperson said penalties for trespass include a fine of up to $4,500 or a term of imprisonment not exceeding 6 months.

The penalties for stealing range widely, depending on the value of the stolen property.

Leafy vegetables growing in a community garden.
Thieves could face fines or prison time if they are caught.(ABC News: Maren Preuss)

Some resort to crime to put food on the table

The latest survey by the University of Tasmania found a small proportion of people who experienced food insecurity resorted to stealing food or “dumpster diving”, out of sheer desperation.

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