I arrived at the vacant lot mid-morning, and something didn't look quite right. The row cover was ragged, and the steel wire I had used to support it was bent out of shape. When I lifted the row cover from the bed, I saw a set of footprints walking down the middle of the baby carrots and beets.
A month or two later, as I did field work, I noticed that there weren't quite as many pepper plants in the bed as I remembered planting. Sure enough, closer examination revealed jagged holes where the pepper plants had been...and even the putty knife that had been used to dig them out.
Vandalism and theft are two frustrating challenges faced by many urban farmers and gardeners. By nature, most growers are generous people and are more than willing to share the bounty of the season...which makes it all the more frustrating to be given the shaft by faceless neighbors. Why didn't they just ask? Why don't they respect my work? What were they thinking?
To be sure, crop loss is not unique to urban environments. Farmers in more rural settings have reported more devastation from deer, mice, and voles than I have ever experienced from humans, but the psychological effects of being stabbed in the back still smart.
Here are a few solutions that might help minimize the damage.
1) A fence. I'm generally opposed to fences; they almost encourage vandalism more than discourage it. However, Riet Shumack of Brightmoor Youth Garden recommended creating a beautiful fence instead of a barrier fence. Maybe a natural log fence...or a living bamboo border.
2) Networking. Be a neighbor. Get to know the people who live around the lot, and be a part of the community. It won't solve all your problems...but it will gain you friends (and even potential customers).
3) Keep it clean. Weedy and trash-strewn lots attract vandalism like poop attracts flies. Maintain your lot, and trouble will be more likely to leave you alone.
4) Be present. The more you are at your site, the more you will be seen. The more you are seen, the less likely someone will be to think they can sneak in and take something.
5) Smile. Remember the important and beautiful things in life. Even in frustrating situations, there are always moments to treasure.
2 months ago