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Pumpkin Thieves Beware, The Trap Is Set

Pumpkin on alarm pad.

Pumpkin on alarm pad.

Kristian Foden-Vencil/OPB

Last year, a Portland couple grew a small pumpkin patch on the sliver of land between their sidewalk and the road.

It was the talk of the neighborhood and they promised local kids they could each have a pumpkin at Halloween.
But a few days beforehand, every single pumpkin was stolen.

Kristian Foden-Vencil reports on the unique solutions some are finding to address theft in the garden patch.

Alex Gorodisher and Kara Goldhamer with one of their alarmed pumpkins.

Alex Gorodisher and Kara Goldhamer with one of their alarmed pumpkins.

Kristian Foden-Vencil/OPB

When Alex Gorodisher and Kara Goldhamer bought their home in southeast Portland a few years ago, the house was completely wired for security and every spot of greenery had been covered in concrete.  They called it the bunker.

But over the last few years, they removed all that security and ripped up most of the concrete. They planted a lush vegetable garden, which they share with a nearby restaurants. And they planted the pumpkin patch next to the street.

Alex Gorodisher: “All the kids would come by and giggle. What was the expression for them.”

Kara Goldhamer: “I would say it’s an investment in happiness because lots and lots of people walk by and hug the pumpkins and talk to us and laugh. It’s been great.

Alex Gorodisher: “And so last year, when they got stolen, we were pretty upset about it. Cary even teared up. But we were comically saying, next year we’re going to plant an alarm. We’re going to catch those guys.”

Now Gorodisher is an engineer. He helps Freightliner figure out how to keep its trucks quiet. So standing in his patch, he admits, he got a little obsessed and built an entire alarm system.

Pumpkin alarm switch

Pumpkin alarm switch

Kristian Foden-Vencil/OPB

Alex Gorodisher: “If you lift the pumpkin off the pressure switch releases and closes the circuit and then it activates the stuff.”

Kristian: “So just let me explain, we’ve got a piece of aluminum siding and the pumpkins sitting on that. Underneath that, you’ve got a switch and then some wires that run, like the vines, way back to your house or something?”

Alex Gorodisher: “Well actually that’s the trickiest bit, the nerdiest part, but it’s the part I’m most proud of. How do you get it over the sidewalk?”

Kristian: “Yeah, without leaving a wire to trip everyone up.”

Alex Gorodisher: “Yeah, so the trickiest bit is, it’s wireless.”

Gorodisher leans over and picks up a pumpkin.

“Pumpkin Alarm! Pumpkin Alarm!  Eh! Eh! Eh! Move out Get ‘Em!”

Alex Gorodisher: “So one of the things I should tell you about the pumpkin alarm. It was easier and actually more effective. If you put the pumpkin back down, it does not turn off. You have to know how to remotely deactivate it. So you can’t just say, ‘Oh, I’m going to repent,’ and set it down and and run. You’re going to be caught, even if you set it down.”

Krsitian. “And I have to explain, there are three flood lights pointing in this direction. You were serious.”

Alex Gorodisher: “The biggest goal here was, I wanted to see the look on their faces as I came running out. Without that, there would actually be no real value.”

So: Did he catch anybody?

The answer is: maybe.

Earlier this month, the alarm went off at about 12:30 in the morning. Gorodisher thought it was because pumpkin had rolled off its platform. So he started dismantling the whole thing.

Alex Gorodisher: “And then our neighbors said they saw three guys running down the street. they were drunk coming from one of the bars.  And they yelled at them. They were hanging out on their front porch and they said: ‘What are you doing messing with those pumpkins man?” After the fact I feel vindicated because it wasn’t even a false alarm, it was real.”

Chefs from The Savoy Restaurant harvest food from Gorodisher and Goldhamer's garden.

Chefs from The Savoy Restaurant harvest food from Gorodisher and Goldhamer’s garden.

Kristian Foden-Vencil/OPB

Apparently, it isn’t only Gorodisher’s pumpkins that are at risk.

Kenneth Lang is the sous chef at The Savoy, a restaurant just around the corner. Gorodisher and Goldhamer allow The Savoy to use their garden to grow produce.

Kenneth Lang: “There’s been a couple of people actually walking around late at night. I’ve escorted people out saying it’s private property. But definitely nothing evil or sinister has been going on.”

Kristian: “So did they have tomatoes in their pockets or things like that?”

Kenneth Lang: “I think they had a couple in their mouth. So just grazing.”

So, is garden theft a problem beyond Gorodisher’s patch? The Portland Police Department says it does hear of theft at community gardens now and then. Police spokesman, Robert King, says it’s partly a sign of the times — because some  people are hungry. But he says sometimes people are just being malicious.

At the People’s Farmers Market in Southeast Portland, Claire Wennstrom sells vegetables from her own southeast Portland garden. And she’s seen some things disappear from her garden.   

Claire Wennstrom: “We have had people who I believe maybe think it’s a community garden and think that since it’s there they can go through and graze.”

At the same stall, Greg Kyle still remembers the year he had three ripe habanero plants in his garden.

Greg Kyle: “Each of them had 60 or 70 totally ripe habaneros and I was just getting ready to go pick them all and the next day essentially, when I got there they were all gone.”

Kristian; “Boy they just looked too good to leave hanging there I suppose.”

Greg Kyle: “I guess, I was growing so many I could only use a few of them.”

Greg Kyle: “I’ve had some people graze on some strawberries too. And I actually did speaking of alarms think that, not that I’d ever do it, that I’d inject a few of my strawberries with some habanero juice.”

Talk about hot produce!

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