After spending months of tending to their plots at Powell’s community garden, several local residents will not get to enjoy the fruits — or vegetables — of their labor.
On back-to-back-to-back days last week, two different people helped themselves to the ripened produce at the community garden in Veterans Park.
Some of the vegetables were taken from beds belonging to the clients and staff at Big Horn Enterprises — a nonprofit organization that serves people with disabilities and that oversees the community facility.
“We’ve put a lot of time into that garden,” said Patty Paulsen, Big Horn Enterprises’ residential supervisor. “For somebody to come and just take everything that’s ready, it’s not OK.”
In the past, people have taken a tomato or two, but this was different, Paulsen said, calling the thefts “very, very disheartening.”
She said the plants and space cost a few hundred dollars — generally funded with Big Horn Enterprise clients’ limited money — and then there’s the labor that’s been put into caring for the plants since June.
“Our clients are pretty upset about not having the [produce],” Paulsen said. “And they did the work.”
Sarah Anderson, the dayhab coordinator for Big Horn Enterprises, said that if people want produce, all they have to do is ask.
“They can just call,” Anderson said. “We’re more than happy to share.”
Anyone in the community can rent a raised bed in the garden for a yearly fee, with the produce belonging to whoever grows it.
Jeff Ellis maintains a plot with his wife and children — they raised eggplants, peppers, tomatoes, beans, peas, sunflowers, zucchini and other plants this year — and he keeps an eye on the facility from his nearby apartment.
On the evening of Tuesday, Sept. 18, Ellis saw a woman carrying a flat loaded up with peppers, tomatoes and other freshly picked veggies.
On Wednesday night, a different woman similarly began loading up a box. Ellis photographed and confronted that woman, who said she had been given permission by someone at the high school. When Ellis asked who exactly had told her that, he said the woman dropped her box of vegetables and left.
Then on Thursday, the woman who’d helped herself to the community garden’s produce on Tuesday returned for more, Ellis said.
“[I] had a chat with her about, you need to stop doing this,” he recounted. “There’s people that are spending a lot of time and money and effort to put in these gardens and raise them and want to get their produce at their time of year and nobody can get it.”
The woman put down her bag of tomatoes and left the park with her child shortly after that.
On the one hand, Ellis said stolen vegetables is “really petty stuff,” but on the other hand, it bothers him that people are helping themselves to other people’s work — and specifically the disabled residents at Big Horn Enterprises.
“It’s sad because, at one time at least, if somebody walked past the garden, they’d go, ‘Wow, that’s a pretty garden and somebody put a lot of effort and work into that,’ and leave it alone,” Ellis said. “But it’s like now, we have people that walk in and they go, ‘Oh, I want that,’ and they just grab it and walk out without any conscience about it.”
“And it’s sad to see our society, even here in Powell, Wyoming, go to that level,” he said.
The first incident was reported to Powell police.
The officer who responded to the community garden Wednesday morning suggested posting a sign, explaining that the vegetables are not free for the taking.
Powell Police Chief Roy Eckerdt said he thinks that could be a “good answer” to the issue. Someone walking into a community garden to pick vegetables in daylight, with other people present, “doesn’t necessarily look nefarious,” Eckerdt said.
Ellis has now put up signs in his family’s plot that read, “Picking what you did not grow is stealing.”
To put up signs on the entire garden, however, would require permission from City of Powell officials, as the area sits within a city park.
Paulsen and Ellis said they plan to get on the Powell City Council agenda to discuss adding signs or possibly even a lock during harvest.
“My thing isn’t, ‘I want somebody arrested and busted for this,’” Ellis said. “It’s more of just ... letting people know, ’Hey this isn’t right and this is what it’s meant for.’ If you want to be involved, if you want to come and be a volunteer, awesome. Come help us out.”
For more information about the Powell Community Garden, call Big Horn Enterprises at 754-5101.