A Comox Valley farmer was stunned Friday to find someone had stolen everything from his farm-gate store, right down to the recycling bins.
Mike Obal and his son Ben have run a market and farm stand in Bates Beach for the past 15 years, selling fresh produce and eggs from his farm, along with other homemade goods. He says he was planning to stay open this winter, but the theft is forcing him to shut it down until next year.
He estimates more than $6,000 worth of food and equipment was stolen, and it must have taken the thieves close to an hour to pack it all up.
“I think it’s just somebody was probably here, they cased the place, they knew what they were going to do, here’s what we’re going to take, and they went exactly for that,” he says.
Sometime before Friday morning, thieves entered the farm and stole everything they could carry. They emptied freezers full of ice cream, took homemade pies, soups and even soaps, using the recycling bins to cart it away. Obal can only guess what the thieves are doing with all the stolen food, and hopes it doesn’t show up at a farmer’s market or store somewhere else on the Island.
RCMP are investigating and are reviewing surveillance footage from the farm.
Obal says other farmers in the valley and elsewhere on the Island are seeing an increase in theft from farm-gate stores based on the honour system, and says it’s difficult enough making a living as a farmer with increased costs and static revenues without having to deal with large-scale theft.
He says it’s been toughest on his son Ben, who has taken over management of the farm store and has been trying to build it into something unique serving the community. He doesn’t want to install fences and put his dogs out on guard, but says it may come to that.
He’s resisted offers to sell the farm for development for years, but says every year it gets harder to maintain a profitable farm on the Island.
Meanwhile he’s trying to stay positive and hopes the community will continue supporting local farmers.
“We’re going to move forward, and just hope for the community to come back when we re-open,” he says. “Then it will just be a story to tell someone over their coffee.”
The Obals aren’t ready to quit yet, and say for next year they are thinking about adding an on-site restaurant to let people enjoy meals made with locally-grown ingredients.