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'Wall of Shame' Farm Stand's Way of Ousting Shoplifters

Owner of Orchard Hill Farm said she is still so discouraged by actions of produce thieves, she may not open stand next year.

Stealing from Orchard Hill Farm just got a whole lot more embarrassing.

The Jacksonville Road self-service farm stand, which has had problems this year with people taking fruits and vegetables and not paying or paying less than the posted cost, has hung a "Wall of Shame" poster, revealing surveilance images of people caught stealing from the stand, as well as their vehicles.

"This man in a white Silverado pick-up truck took $47 in produce and paid $5 on Sept. 7," the poster reads above photographs of the man and vehicle. "This woman in a dark SUV took about $45 in produce and paid $4."

For more than 150 years, the VanNess family has been operating the stand in Towaco and relying on customers to slip money through the door for the items they would like to purchase.

Russell VanNess, 65, is the owner and operator, with help from his wife, Donna VanNess, and daughter, Jennifer VanNess. Since opening the farm stand, Russell VanNess has taken a full-time job, but his family has maintained the stand by operating it as self-service and checking in whenever possible.

"We have a sign up there that we're not doing this just for the fun of it. We like to accomodate our old-time customers," Donna VanNess said. "It's getting to the point that my husband and I are killing ourselves and people are ripping me off."

In July, the VanNesses suffered their biggest hit so far when a woman in a luxury vehicle allegedly took $70 worth of produce without paying. Jennifer VanNess said the woman was seen on camera with a small girl, but there was not enough information to go to police. Also, she said, the cost to prosecute each alleged shoplifter caught on tape would be too much for the family, so often times they have let it go.

Since then, VanNess said the woman with the luxury vehicle has come back to the farm and paid the full amount of the produce. The small girl, who was her daughter, VanNess said, was mortified.

"They had the dollar amount and everything and they wanted it to be taken off the computer," she said.

VanNess said the woman claimed she was planning to pay when she returned from vacation at a later date. While she said "either it was a misunderstanding or it wasn't," VanNess believes that the word spread around town about the woman and she came forward to do what was right.

Even though the money was eventually paid to the farm in that situation, VanNess said others have continued to take more produce than they are paying for since then.

"We've had a couple people who pay $5 and take $40 worth of stuff," she said.

Donna VanNess said the people doing this are often systematic in their approach.

"One woman came in and she took two quarts of string beans and a thing of carrots, which should have been like $5.50, and she put in $1. She put that in the car and she took peaches and apples and then put $1 [in the door] and brought that back to the car," she said. "She did this three or four times. As we totaled it up, it came to like $44 or $45 and she put in $4 total. Why is it that people think we put the stuff down there and the cameras and they think that we don't check? That we don't know how much we should have?"

Donna VanNess said she knows exactly how much produce is put out each day and how much was taken and not paid for when that happens. While she understands some families may be struggling, she said hers is no different.

"If they don't have it, what makes them think we have it? We're struggling day-to-day," she said. "We really have to re-think what we want to do for next year."

She said her family is still considering closing up shop based on the shoplifting and the poor farming season they are coming out of. According to Jennifer VanNess, aside from the season that included Hurricane Irene, this has been one of the worst in the farm's history because of the weather and animals eating the crops.

Donna VanNess said her family will be researching how other farms with self-service stands operate before making a decision on whether to open next year. In the meantime, she hopes to see the shoplifting stop at the stand.

"If somebody was hungry and they came to us and said, 'We don't have any money, we don't have any food,' I'm sure we would have no problem with that. But come and ask us," she said.

Andie September 19, 2012 at 11:14 AM
Love the Van Ness family.
Paul Jacobs September 19, 2012 at 12:23 PM
I suggest everyone from Montville buy their veggies from this farmstand and throw in a couple of extra bucks to help keep them open and maybe restore their faith in our community.
Rich Spyder September 19, 2012 at 12:42 PM
Agree 100 % a few extra bucks to help them stay open sounds great.
Jennifer September 19, 2012 at 04:58 PM
Thank you again to the patch, since this article we have been paid again and thank you to the man in the white truck for explaining that he did not have money at the time but for making good on what he owed us. Dona Van Ness
Ernie September 19, 2012 at 06:43 PM
I am not really sure of the pricing at the stand but $47 worth of produce seems like a lot to steal. I would imagine the theives had a few very large bags to tote off, don't these people have any shame?
Rich Spyder September 20, 2012 at 05:08 PM
Thats why they steal no shame.
ML September 20, 2012 at 10:41 PM
If he didn't have the money then he shouldn't have taken the produce. He waited over 10 days to pay? I am glad that you embarrassed him and all the others.
Dan Grant September 21, 2012 at 11:42 AM
Although the thought of putting a little extra money in is nice, all the Van Ness's need and deserve are honest customers. They work hard growing and providing the produce. They offer fair value and fresh products.
Chris Schillander September 22, 2012 at 02:10 PM
If i were the owner, I would call 7 On Your Side, or News 12, to shame anyone else that has stolen from this stand into paying back, and discouraging anyone else from trying to do this. Im sorry, but the lady in the suv is full of baloney, "was gonna pay when she returned from vacation"? If you can afford a vacation, you can pony up the money for some veggies. I'm sure she only payed out of embarrassment.
Ryan September 22, 2012 at 06:27 PM
Produce is great, produce is grand, if you want some have the cash in hand!
James A. Crowell 3rd September 23, 2012 at 12:20 AM
ML - lighten up just a little on this one. Sometimes some of us just don't have the money today because our check doesn't come to us before tomorrow, or the next day. The wall of shame is a great idea because it does to a person what needs to be done for all the right reasons. The rest, the incorrigible, are what they are and probably will always be. The benefit of the doubt on most folks is worth it. I do suggest you don't shame people until you've given them three good chances to fess and pay up. Then, Shame the hell ot of them !!!
Paul Jacobs September 23, 2012 at 12:47 AM
James, Theft is Theft. Try that at A & P.
Louise September 23, 2012 at 03:12 AM
Paul, I agree!
kathy September 23, 2012 at 11:36 AM
come on pay for what you take! Do you not know how hard it is to garden? grow a farm? well i do / it takes alot of time skill and strengh. power and sweat to do it. and yes SHAME ON YOU.. PAY UP..
kathy September 23, 2012 at 11:39 AM
what go to a store and put a banana, apple etc under your coat see where you go.
Walter O. September 23, 2012 at 03:31 PM
What kind of Scum Bags take all that food and leave $4-$5 dollars?!?! Honestly, what is wrong with some of these people?
Leila Oxford September 24, 2012 at 12:28 AM
Just wondering why you have such a problem with the other Montville Farmer and recognize the Van Ness Family as hard working and providing the produce? As I told you once before the corn that they sell comes from the other Montville Farmer who you always choose to bad mouth and bash to NO END. Just wondering if you think the Van Ness farm should be able to use Mother Natures water to irrigate or does the same apply to them that the water belongs to Montville? Obviously you have something against the other Montville Farmer and I am going to tell you again that you and Montville need to get over it.
James A. Crowell 3rd September 24, 2012 at 02:41 AM
Leila- I only suggested giving shame fairly. How that translates into hating ANY hard working farm family baffles the immagination. I love the independent farm community!
James A. Crowell 3rd September 24, 2012 at 02:43 AM
Paul Jacobs- Point well taken.

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