Produce pilferedfrom Rockinghamcommunity garden

Contributed photo Volunteers and community garden members help build the plant beds last year at the Steele Street access point at Hitchcock Creek. Produce and equipment from the garden was stolen over the weekend.

Matt Harrelson | Daily Journal A view from the community garden shows the two security cameras in the background above the restrooms. Neither one points toward the garden.

ROCKINGHAM — Missing produce from the community garden has local officials and Rockingham police rethinking security measures at the Steele Street access to Hitchcock Creek.

Susan Kelly of the Richmond County Cooperative Extension said vandals stole some of the crops being grown in the garden as well as some equipment such as a a Rubbermaid wheelbarrow last weekend. Kelly said it appears that it just started happening this year, but this was a problem for the garden last year too.

It’s gotten to the point where equipment that is usually left outside is having to either be locked up or chained to the restrooms, Kelly said.

“It’s a shame. I really hate it,” she said. “I don’t want to discourage people from gardening.”

Rockingham Police Chief Billy Kelly said no reports had been filed on the incident, but did acknowledge problems in the past.

“Officers do patrol the area,” Kelly said. “Our K-9s do training there. Officers do overtime there. They ride the trails and they’re down there. There presence is there. It is something that we’re currently working on.”

Kelly said she emailed Rockingham City Planner John Massey Monday morning about the issue to get his opinion on the situation and to determine if any steps could be taken in the future to deter theft. Massey told her that the Rockingham Police Department is reviewing camera options.

There are currently two security cameras on the property — one facing the newly built restrooms and the other looking out onto the parking lot and rest area. Neither has a good look at the community garden.

Kelly concurred with Massey that additional cameras could be installed, but they are looking at different options.

A sign posted at the entrance to the garden says visitors are encouraged, but produce shouldn’t be picked and the gardens should be left undisturbed.

Kelly thinks maybe people just aren’t getting the message, and there could be a misconception that because the garden is open to the public, that it’s OK to take from it.

“People may think it’s theirs to pick,” she said.

She compared the thefts to someone going into neighbors’ backyards and stealing their plants and crops.

The garden is a project of the Cooperative Extension office and the city of Rockingham. Funds are provided by grants from Nourishing North Carolina. The plots, however, are rented from those in community for $10 per year.

“People spend their own money on the plots,” Kelly said.

At any point and time, the garden can be full of tomatoes, peppers, squash, broccoli, cabbage, collard and mustard greens, peas, cucumbers and beans.

“It’s very unique,” Kelly said of the garden. “Everybody has their own spin on it. They usually don’t have the same plot as last year, so I encourage them to grow annual crops.”

She said the garden is pretty much a year-round endeavor, and gardeners can be seen on their plots even in December and January.

Reach reporter Matt Harrelson at 910-817-2674, listen to him at 12:10 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays on WAYN 900 AM and follow him on Twitter @mattyharrelson.