An unnamed woman is facing larceny charges in Deerfield, Massachusetts, because of a bold daylight theft perpetrated on the side of a public road. Though she wasn’t caught in the act, police found her flaunting the stolen goods in the back seat of her Mercedes. Those goods? An entire bagful of apples.
The woman, who was spotted by a passerby picking the apples from a roadside tree, told a police officer that she thought the apples were free for the taking. But, like many of the apple trees lining roads in Massachusetts, these trees belonged to a family-run orchard whose business lives and die by the fruit.
According to the Greenfield Recorder, a police officer confronted the woman and informed her that she had to pay for her apples. She promised that she would do so. But when the officer called the apple grower Clarkdale Orchard, and learned that they hadn’t actually been made whole, he did what any small town upstanding enforcer of the law would do: he booked her.
The woman now faces a court date, writes the Recorder, as the officer hit her with a “larceny of produce” charge.
How big of a problem is apple theft? According to Tom Clark of Clarkdale Orchards, it’s absolutely something the businesses look out for. “When they take bags full, it’s concerning,” he says. But this case, which is ending in a charge and a court date, is unusual. In fact, Clark says that he had nothing to do with the prosecution; the police officer booked the thief without his input.
But apple growers all agree: even if apple swiping rarely merits a larceny charge, it is downright annoying. The real issue for farmers like Clark is the entitlement. When someone at his farm catches a thief they almost always plead ignorance. “Oh, I didn’t know they were somebody’s apples,” he says they tell him. His response? “Well that’s kind of stupid.”
Apex Orchard, another apple-growing business a few miles away from Clarkdale, has noticed similarly dubious activity. “It’s definitely a problem,” explains Becca, an employee at Apex. “They’ll just go right in and take some apples.” Her boss has caught more than a few people red-delicious-handed. When this occurs, he always asks the perpetrators to pay. Unlike the woman in the Mercedes, they usually do.
For orchards like Clarkdale and Apex, the thefts haven’t necessarily led to significant financial loss–as far as they know. Becca does wonder how often people steal apples when nobody is around, given how willing they are to do it right in front of farmers’ faces.
Other orchards, meanwhile, have bigger problems with theft. In 2012, Mack Orchards in Londonderry, New Hampshire caught a family trying to steal an entire trunk-load of apples. Less than a month later, the farm caught another group of people stealing apples. Ever since, the orchard has upped its security to make keep an eye out for other potential apple thieves.
“Every apple’s worth something to us and we’re trying to get as much as we can. It’s going to be a tight year for us,” Mike Cross, Mack’s general manager, told a local ABC station.
The farmers find it hard to explain to passersby why this matters. To many people, whose livelihoods don’t rely on selling produce, grabbing an apple seems innocuous. The sun is setting, you stop the car to look at some foliage, why not pick your own healthy snack off a tree nearby? But casual apple thieves could be causing more harm than they think. Does anyone really want to be the person hauled into jail over a pilfered Jonagold?