Farm stand thefts teach a lesson in compassion and community

Photo by Hadley Abernathy Bunting
Susan Cooke-Kittredge displays her garden’s bounty at her garden stand on Beach Road.

By Chea Waters Evans

Beach Road in Shelburne is a tree-lined lane tucked off Bostwick Road that leads to the Shelburne Town Beach. For six years, Susan Cooke-Kittredge has operated a farm stand out of her home there, selling flowers, vegetables, and fruit that she grows in her 3,000-square foot garden.

Thefts this summer from the stand that she calls “Meach Cove Garden Kitchen” prompted a brief closure that she reversed after receiving encouragement from her neighbors.

Farm stands are at their most bountiful this time of year, and provide a mutual benefit for those who plant more than they can eat and those who are too lazy, busy, or black-thumbed to maintain their own gardens. In a Front Porch Forum post, Cook-Kittredge wrote that her farm stand is a highlight of the season, “But this summer has been different and thefts have been frequent. It saddens me to think of the people who have taken advantage of the honor system and helped themselves to flowers and vegetables without paying.”

The theft is discouraging in a town where the honor system has always been honored. But what was notable about Cooke-Kittredge’s post was her compassionate response to the perpetrator. She wrote: “How must they feel about themselves? They probably have a kind of sick feeling in their stomachs. I do too.”

In an interesting twist, Cooke-Kittredge happens to be the associate pastor at the Charlotte Congregational Church, so it was fitting that she attempted to find meaning and connection in the midst of a troublesome circumstance.

For over 50 years, Cooke-Kittredge has had an organic garden. She said her husband would call the current one too big, but she calls it “not quite big enough.” She also has sour cherry, peach, and pear trees. This year’s harvest has been so bountiful that she joked her road should be renamed “Peach Road.”

Occasional small thefts are part of the honor-stand business, Cooke-Kittredge said, but added “I’ve consoled myself that those who take advantage of the system must do so because they really need some food. In the end they have to live with themselves and that’s probably not easy whether they are honestly struggling to make ends meet or behaving dishonestly.”

The most disheartening point of the summer came in early August when someone stole all the flowers and peaches from the stand. Cooke-Kittredge said she decided to close down the stand and post on Front Porch Forum to let her customers know why. The response surprised her and made her reconsider.

“I certainly didn’t expect the onslaught of emails I received. People expressed sadness at the closing, disappointment in the state of the world and enormous encouragement to open again,” she said.

After the stand reopened, Cooke-Kittredge said she found love notes and thank you notes in the cash box. Her bounty of produce and generosity of spirit brought her a lesson through the thefts, one that’s relevant as both a pastor and a gardener: “I guess it’s all about tending, cultivating, nurturing and celebrating, whether it’s peaches or people.”

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