Crime Where Telltale Clue Is a Corn Tassel

New York Times – by ALISON LEIGH COWAN

BRISTOL, Conn. — A pair of thefts have disrupted the quiet rhythms of two Connecticut towns and have up-at-dawn farmers and their loyal farm stand clientele fuming.

“I would never have thought that people would steal corn from a farm,” said Lynn Laskowski, a college professor shopping at Green Acres Farm in Bristol, where a predawn theft recently netted $1,200 of ready-to-pick corn.  

Thieves had struck Anderson Farms in Wethersfield, 25 miles to the east, a few days earlier. The Andersons’ main plot is safeguarded by a locked gate to discourage trespassers from helping themselves to ears of corn. That did not stop two outsiders, though, from targeting 40 acres the family sows outside the gate. “One was holding the bag,” said Christopher Anderson, the fourth-generation farmer who confronted the pillagers, “and the other was filling it up.”

He caught up with them just ahead of the police at a neighbor’s house.

“They had corn tassels in their hair,” Mr. Anderson said. “A dead giveaway.”


The farm stand at Green Acres Farm in Bristol, Conn., where a predawn heist recently netted $1,200 of ready-to-pick corn. CreditChristopher Gregory for The New York Times

The police agreed and charged the suspects, Efrain Pacheco, 60, and his son, Carlos E. Pacheco, 36, with larceny in the sixth degree. Both defendants, scheduled to appear in court in New Britain, Conn., on Sept. 15, face up to three months in prison and $500 in fines, though some farmers say they will be rooting for alternative sentences that better fit the alleged crime.

“Heck, I don’t want these guys to go to jail,” said Whit Betts, sales manager of Green Acres, where the theft remains unsolved. “I want them to pick weeds on farms for two summers in a row. See how much of an appetite they have for stealing corn after that.”

Though the Wethersfield incident produced arrests, more cases simply end up like the Green Acres one: closed. Russ Marcham, acting lieutenant of Bristol’s police department, said leads were usually hard to come by. “It’s not like there’s surveillance” in the fields, he said.

Nor was there an obvious need, said Daniel F. Donahue, an owner of Blumenthal & Donahue, a brokerage firm in Deep River, Conn., whose company has about 50 corn growers among its agricultural clients. He said he had known of raccoons that cleaned out half an acre of corn while farmers slept, but never human interlopers. “This is the first time I’ve heard of it in 25 years,” he said.

Prosecutors and the police in Connecticut also say they cannot recall the last time vegetable theft warranted their attention, but local growers and state officials say there have been some instances.

Mr. Betts, whose wife is an owner at Green Acres, recounted how he and his crew spotted unfamiliar tire treads and 200 dozen ears missing from the stalks when they went to pick corn on Aug. 3.

The thieves had come at night and left 10 outer rows closest to the road intact so as not to arouse suspicion. They knew what they were doing: They picked cleanly, without wrecking the stalks. And they grabbed plenty of butter-and-sugar corn, a common variety in Connecticut, but left behind the more valuable Kandy corn.

“I think we’re the only ones to grow that in central Connecticut, so that would have been traceable,” Mr. Betts said.

The farm is now installing surveillance cameras and asking neighbors to report any suspicious activity.

Farmers say they donate produce to families in need, but they insist that the recent hits are not the handiwork of people who are hungry. “If someone needs a dozen ears, or if you need food, hey, I’ll even pick it for you,” Mr. Anderson said. “But don’t take advantage of someone else’s hard work to steal stuff.”

The sales manager of Green Acres Farm, Whit Betts, and his crew spotted unfamiliar tire treads and 200 dozen ears missing from the stalks when they came to pick corn on Aug. 3.CreditChristopher Gregory for The New York Times

He and other farmers suspect resale as the motive, not at local farmers’ markets, where vendors tend to know one another, but a few towns away, where contraband corn can be sold from the back of a truck.

In the Anderson Farms case, the police were able to return some of the stolen corn to Mr. Anderson, still in sellable shape. In years past, he said, the police have returned corn to him “shriveled up and no good,” months after it was pilfered.

Mr. Anderson is miffed, though, that agricultural thefts barely constitute larceny in Connecticut. The monetary value of stolen goods, not the degree of injury or inconvenience experienced by the owner, determines the seriousness of the charge, and fresh corn fetches only 50 to 65 cents an ear. The police confirm they retrieved 153 freshly picked ears of corn, which they valued at just under $100.

The older Mr. Pacheco told the police he would pay for the stolen items, according to Mr. Anderson, who told the police he would rather press charges.

Patrons of the area’s corn growers, on edge since Green Acres mentioned the theft on its Facebook page, have been offering tips on how to deter poachers. One recommended planting cow corn, typically used for animal feed, around the perimeter.

“Eat that and you will never steal corn from there again,” he wrote.

Mr. Anderson is considering it. He already uses cow corn in one spot to distract birds so they leave the rest of his crop alone, but never imagined using the poor-tasting ears to keep human freeloaders at bay.

Mr. Anderson, 52, lives in Glastonbury. His brother Craig, 49, and their uncle, David, 78, live just behind the Wethersfield farm stand in a house their family built in 1878.

The family has been farming in Wethersfield since just before the Civil War. It started with tobacco and dairy cows. After an outbreak of tuberculosis afflicted the livestock in the 1930s, Mr. Anderson’s grandfather sold the cows and focused on produce. Corn became the main crop half a century ago. Switching from old standbys like Golden Bantam and Silver Queen to supersweet varieties that hold their flavor better after being picked, Anderson Farms now has nearly 150 acres devoted to corn. Those fields supply a dozen other farm stands. Their best yield, Mr. Anderson said, was about 15 years ago, when they reaped a record 1 million ears of corn — all picked by hand.

Mr. Anderson said he knew of other Connecticut farmers who grew tired of the daily struggle to coax one or two edible ears from each stalk, and instead have turned to corn mazes — planting the cheaper cow corn, mowing paths through it and pulling in 10,000 tourists a year. “It’s $10 a head they charge,” he said. “You got to sell a lot of corn to match that.”

Anderson Farms will not be following suit. “We raise corn to eat,” Mr. Anderson said.

8 thoughts on “Crime Where Telltale Clue Is a Corn Tassel

  1. Yes, they didn’t know and left the most valuable “candy corn” still standing. I guess they forgot their “night vision goggles”! Mexicans in Connecticut. Soon, they’ll be stealing beach towels on Martha’s Vineyard! Aye, yie, yie, aye!

  2. Efrain Pacheco and Carlos E. Pacheco sound like a couple of wet-backs to me, and as advertised, they’re doing a job Americans won’t do.

    I can hear their defense lawyer now: “Your honor, my clients didn’t steal anything. Obama told them they’d be able to take whatever they wanted once they got here.”

  3. Back in the day, out here in Iowa, there wasn’t a watermelon patch within 10 miles that was safe! lol

    1. I remember those times, lol. Didn’t myself, but had a friend who ended up butt shot with a load of rock salt for trying to steal ’em.

    2. LOL That’s true in many states, regardless of crop. Back in the day, farmers weren’t shy about peppering bird shot or rock salt (Some loaded their shotgun shells with rock salt. “Didn’t want to kill ’em, just teach ’em a lesson.”). 😉

  4. -Very interesting that the wetbacks left the better stuff behind… probably because it was more difficult to steal. (closer to houses, roads, &dogs)
    I very much doubt if they gave a crap about it being ‘traceable’, as they more than likely were going to sell it to other wetbacks and lowlifes in general.
    Also noteworthy is the part where the one guy said that he’d -pay for it-, which implies that they were NOT desperate and/or starving.
    If you think that this is bad, things are only going to get worse.

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