Tomato Thieves

A.V. Walters

Here it is, October, and the tomatoes are beginning to yield in a big way. Finally, the season catches up. Most all the regular summer vegies are gone, a few lingering summer squash, some cucumbers and then–the tomatoes. It’s October canning again. Last weekend I set the kitchen up for canning, prepped my jars, counted my lids and rings and then headed out to the garden with a three gallon bucket. When I got there, there were hardly any ripe tomatoes. Just the day before those vines looked like Christmas trees and then–next to nothing. I blamed Don. It’s not fair, because I had no evidence. But Don has a reputation for pulling jokes on people–I figured it had to be him. I picked what there was, and plotted my revenge.

Yesterday, I got a call from one of my neighbors. She said that there were strangers in the tomato patch. I threw on my clothes and bolted out after them. Sure enough, a friend of one our residents was there, picking a grocery sack full of tomatoes! This is a tough call. It is a community garden. Granted Rick and I provide most of the plants and almost all of the work, but all summer we regularly deliver the harvest to each of the residents on the farm. We encourage “the community” to help themselves to the bounty from the garden. And, we’ve never had a problem before with having enough to share and to can.

This interloper was accompanied by one of our kids from the farm, a human shield, in my mind. That’s a despicable tactic–to use children as cover in your fiendish plot. I know these kids, they’re good kids, but for the life of me, I cannot get them to eat tomatoes. I held my tongue, that is, until she went after the corn. She pulled several ears from the stalks, pulled back the husks and, determining that they were not yet ripe–threw them to the ground. That was it. I approached her, my eyes fixed on that paper grocery sack near filled with lovely heirloom tomatoes. She had a nervous smile. I initiated the conversation, “So, you know that this is a community garden–for the folks who live here on the farm.” She shifted the weight of the bag in the crook of her arm, nodding. The kid asked about the corn. I explained that it wasn’t ready yet–told her how to tell–and explained that we didn’t get full pollination, so some of those ears would have gaps, like missing teeth where the kernels didn’t fill in. And I told her that the ears they’d thrown down should be fed to the pigs, and not wasted. The kid and the tomato thief nodded.

They didn’t meet my gaze. It wasn’t clear that I’d made my point. “It’s fine,” I said, “As long as the stuff you pick is for farm residents, for consumption here on the farm.”

She paused, “Of course, these are for the kids, here.” She nodded at the kid. The kid nodded, too.

Sheesh, I’ve been trying for three years to get these kids to even try the tomatoes. You couldn’t pry their mouths open with a crowbar. And now this woman is lying and including the kid in the lie. Great training, eh? I sighed, turned and walked back over to my conversation with the woman who’d placed the call. She shook her head. Then she advised me that on Sunday morning there’d been a couple of folks here she didn’t even recognize, picking tomatoes. And I’d blamed poor Don!

I don’t know the solution to this problem. While I’m more than happy to share with my farm neighbors, I also want to get in my winter supply of canned sauce and canned whole romas. Who are these people who would show up at harvest and help themselves, when they’ve not participated in the garden–and who are strangers to the farm? I just don’t get it. My sister tells me I’m the little red hen.

When I came home this morning, I found lovely printed signs which Rick had made.






I don’t know if the signs will have any effect on the tomato pilferers, but already they’ve done wonders for me.