ST. PETERSBURG — Two ground tillers, one red lawn trimmer, a green push mower, all missing.
That's what Moses Manning discovered a week ago at the small community garden he and a handful of neighbors faithfully nurture in a fenced, vacant lot.
With the fall season fast approaching, the loss comes at an inopportune time for the Palmetto Park Neighborhood Association community garden.
"Right now, we're trying to get it ready for replanting," said Manning, 73, a retired truck driver who works the soil with friend and neighbor Benjamin King, 58.
"We go down there and do all that hard work and for somebody to come down and steal those tools, it doesn't make any sense," Manning said.
Lurlis Simmons, 82, president of the neighborhood association, is disgusted about the theft of what he estimates to be about $800 to $900 worth of equipment.
"We just bought some of it. The tillers were the most expensive thing we had," he said.
The thieves pried open the doors of a storage shed on the property at 2519 Third Ave. S, police spokesman Mike Puetz said.
"We have no suspects or leads," he said.
The garden, used to grow collard and mustard greens, tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, peppers, eggplant, sugar cane, peanuts and more, flourishes on a 50- by 127-foot residential lot the neighborhood has leased from the city since 2001. Bruce Grimes, the city's director of real estate and property management, said the lease is $10 per three-year period.
Simmons said the community garden got its start with the help of Eckerd College students.
"They came out and they were taking a survey and we got to talking about how we could help the elderly people," he said, adding that whatever is harvested is distributed free within the neighborhood. "We've got a lot of elderly people. They hardly come out of their house a lot of time. We share it with them."
Grants helped to get the project started, Simmons said. Volunteer gardeners have included a Boy Scout troop and church youth groups, including one from nearby New Covenant Baptist Church, he said. Last year, the garden was a project of CareFest, an annual citywide volunteer program that helped the neighborhood prepare for fall planting, said Susan Ajoc, the city's director of community service.
Still, much of the work in the community garden is done by Manning and King, who "are there all the time," Simmons said.
"We have been down there about three years," said King, who had a garden in his back yard, but gave it up to have a safe place to park his truck.
This week the pair harvested okra to share with their neighbors.
"They appreciate the stuff that we grow and give to them," Manning said. "But now they stole all our tools, we're having a hard time getting things going again."
The neighborhood association is taking measures to stop the thieves, Simmons said.
"We're taking turns now to see if we can catch whoever it is," he said. "After all this time of being in there, it never occurred to me that it would ever happen in a community garden."
Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2283.