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York City plant thief destroys community garden, tramples 2 duck nests

Liz Evans Scolforo
York Dispatch

The thief who stole more than $1,000 worth of native plants from a community garden outside the United Way building in York City's east end could have had plants for free, and only had to ask.

It's a community garden after all, said Annalisa Gojmerac, who designs, runs and manages several urban gardens in York City in conjunction with the nonprofit York Fresh Food Farms.

Instead, the thief might have killed the plants by digging them up while they were in full bloom, she said. The garden is at the corner of East King and Sherman streets.

"Someone went there with a shovel and just ripped out plants and smashed the eggs of two duck nests," Gojmerac said, but she noted that the destruction of the duck nests might have been inadvertent.

York City Police have been notified, but Gojmerac said she won't press charges if the thief returns all the plants, in pots, to the garden.

The plants — which included blueberry bushes, bee balm, milkweed and mountain mint — were purchased with grant money from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, she said. The foundation specifically chose the native plants, which are known to attract pollinators, she said.

Volunteers usually help Gojmerac maintain urban community gardens in York City, but the COVID-19 pandemic left her trying to tend the gardens by herself, she said.

Annalisa Gojmerac, who runs York City's urban community gardens, weeds the garden she manages at the United Way offices in York City Wednesday, June 10, 2020. She said more than $1,000 worth of plants were stolen from the garden, which she is in the process of moving. Bill Kalina photo

New garden location: Gojmerac said the garden on United Way property is moving to a new location behind Our Daily Bread soup kitchen in the 300 block of South George Street and will be called the Church and Court garden, named after bordering streets. The garden will be bigger and will be fenced, she said.

Because the United Way garden was moving and ducks were nesting there and because she had no volunteers to help her, Gojmerac stopped weeding the area, she said.

She discovered the theft of plants last Friday and said she thinks it happened June 3.

Annalisa Gojmerac, who runs York City's urban community gardens, removes straw bales from the garden she manages at the United Way offices in York City Wednesday, June 10, 2020. She said more than $1,000 worth of plants were stolen from the garden, which she is in the process of moving. Bill Kalina photo

The garden was built to attract pollinators, specifically the at-risk honeybee, she said.

"Native plants are important tools in the fight against hunger in York City," Gojmerac said. "They attract the honeybees, which improves pollination and generates magnificent amounts of fresh, organic produce."

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Free produce: Residents can rent garden beds in the city's community gardens for $11, and there are shared areas as well where all harvested produce is given to the community for free, she said.

There were blueberries, raspberries and strawberries in the shared area of the United Way garden.

"A kid could walk to school and graze on fresh fruit," she said, that was free of pesticides.

A coneflower blooms at the United Way offices in York City Wednesday, June 10, 2020. Annalisa Gojmerac, who runs York City's urban community gardens, said more than $1,000 worth of plants were stolen from the garden, including coneflower plants. Bill Kalina photo

The goal of urban community gardens is to get fresh produce to residents, according to Gojmerac, so if the thief had simply asked for the plants, Gojmerac could have divided those plants' roots — once the growing season had ended — and provided them to the thief for free.

The native plants were not inexpensive, she said, and will be difficult to replace.

Those interested in helping to replace them can mail donations, and make checks payable, to York Fresh Food Farms at 150 Willis Road, York 17404. Write "community garden account" in the memo portion of checks, Gojmerac said.

The organization is nonprofit and offers a mobile produce pickup program, in addition to its other community services. Find them online at yorkfreshfoodfarms.org.

— Reach senior crime reporter Liz Evans Scolforo at levans@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.

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