Growers deal with all sorts of challenges throughout the growing season – but a few Ohio growers are facing a new challenge, one that was unexpected. A group of temporary laborers performing spring pruning at several Ohio orchards are believed to have stolen more than 200 newly-planted trees.
“We all as growers have enough challenges working with Mother Nature – this isn’t something you anticipate happening,” says Ben Gammie of Quarry Hill Orchards in Berlin Heights, OH. “The sad part about it is that feeling of vulnerability, being taken advantage of. Transient labor opens you up to vulnerabilities and things like this to happen.”
Gammie says between 80 to 100 ‘Gala,’ ‘Evercrisp,’ and ‘Firestorm Honeycrisp’ were taken from his orchard. Brian Geig of Geig’s Orchard in Seville, OH, says 53 ‘Evercrisp’ trees were stolen from his orchard. Approximately 50 ‘Firestorm Honeycrisp’ were stolen from Malone Orchard in Berlin Heights, OH.
For the growers, the frustrating part is these varieties stolen were newer and harder to obtain. Gammie said his ‘Firestorm Honeycrisp’ trees came from California. Geig says he was on a waiting list for three years to get ‘Evercrisp.’
“We’re planning two or three years out for our orchard plantings, and now we have to throw this in the queue to get some more in-field trees,” Gammie says.
Viral Post Helps Link Thefts
Geig says the orchards were able to help each other out through social media. A post on the Geig Orchard Facebook page mentioned the stolen trees. Someone from Malone Orchard commented that the same thing happened to them, and both orchards noted that the suspected crew also worked at Quarry Hill Orchard, so representatives from Malone Orchard reached out to the folks at Quarry Hill, where missing trees were also discovered.
“It can’t be a coincidence that there was a crew of young men that had been helping us on the farm. Three of the farms experienced tree loss, and all three of those farms had this crew helping them out,” Gammie says.
According to a news story by the Sandusky Register, Malone Orchards notified the Erie County Sheriff’s Office on May 8, and then Quarry Hill and Geig’s Orchard also reported it to law enforcement. The thefts are now subject to an ongoing investigation with coordination from Medina and Erie County sheriff departments.
“They knew what [varieties] they were. They knew what they were getting,” Geig says.
Geig also says the Facebook post on May 4 had more than 40,000 views only two days later.
Takeaways From This
More than anything, the growers who had trees stolen from them want to help prevent this from happing to anyone else.
“If a group of workers come in and they want to work and if they give you references, you should check them,” Geig says.
Gammie says growers should be aware of who is moving in and out of your orchard, and who might be stopping by to walk through your orchard. He also says this is a good opportunity to talk with your full-time employees about what happened and how they can help.
“Growers should visit with their crew and contractors in and around the farm and have that conversation up front, saying ‘this is an issue that happened, we’re aware of it, and if you hear anything about this – please let us know so we can help growers that have had some loss. Let’s collectively try to prevent this happening from again.’”
Gammie and Geig are hoping the exposure from this story will also help deter any future thefts, just simply by getting word out in the apple growing community.
“Yes, it was something unfortunate that happened, but we still have a lot of work to do on the farm,” Gammie says. “We’re not going to let ourselves get swept up in dwelling on this. We’re going to focus on what we do best and that’s growing good apples.”