The vandals hit the only greenhouse in the garden and plundered plants in other areas, taking produce with a market value of around $400.
"If you include the hours of work and soil preparation that went into the greenhouse, the loss goes up to nearly $1,000," said Pastor Laurie Johnson of First Lutheran Church.
The church, kitty-corner across from the garden, is the land sponsor for the program. Pastor Johnson serves as treasurer for Growing Together Community Gardens, which is headed this year by Adam Zeigler. Johnson and Zeigler were founding members of the program.
Zeigler's area, including the greenhouse, suffered the greatest losses. What's pathetic about the theft is that much of it, though right off the vine, wasn't edible. Huge squash and pumpkins might have looked ready for eating to the unpracticed eye, but they were far from ripe.
"All of the pumpkins have been picked," Zeigler wrote in an email to others in the garden program. "I planted these for the children of garden tenants to harvest for carving in the fall.
"I am particularly upset about this because not only were they for the children to enjoy, they had not even obtained a sufficient degree of ripeness to be edible let alone palatable," Zeigler wrote. "Many of the Sugar Hubbard squash have been picked also. Nearly half of the winter squash in the large mound near the entrance of the garden have also been picked, also far from ripe."
The damage happened sometime over the weekend of Aug. 9-10. After returning from a weekend out of town, Zeigler and his family arrived to work at the garden and noticed the vandalism and theft. "Our hot house which is clearly marked with a sign reading 'Private Space Please Keep Out' had serious damage to its contents," Zeigler wrote.
"All of my ripe tomatoes have been picked which is a considerable percentage of this year's harvest. All of my ripe peppers have been picked. All of my ripe eggplants have been picked, nearly a dozen. Almost all of my jelly melons have been picked. Most of my remaining cucumbers have been picked. Many of my plants were also trampled. This is just in my greenhouse."
Pastor Johnson added: "None of the crops Adam lost from the greenhouse will regrow this season. Adam was planning to share the abundance of the produce from the greenhouse with the garden members and with the food bank, since peppers, cucumbers, melons, eggplant and many of the tomatoes varieties he was cultivating in the greenhouse need a long growing season and cannot otherwise be successfully grown in our local area. Even with the greenhouse, we won't have sufficient light to support a replanting."
But the greatest damage might be the loss of a sense of security. "We've been here three years, and this is the first time we've had something like this," said Pastor Johnson.
One purpose of the garden is to provide a place for local people to raise their own fresh vegetables and other crops. Some plots are maintained by low-income families and the garden gives them an affordable way of providing food for their tables. A large section of the garden is cultivated solely for the patrons of the food bank in South Bend.
"They were not only stealing crops," Pastor Johnson said, "they stole from those who need it most."
It's possible the late-night vandals were looking for a locally grown, now legal, plot of marijuana. Since the break-in, the garden's rules and regulations have been amended to disallow growing marijuana.
Also since the break-in, signs have gone up warning the garden is under surveillance. Additional signs are expected to advertise "No Marijuana Grown Here", Pastor Johnson said.