DETROIT (AP) — A "well-organized machine" of thieves appears to be behind the theft of tons of apples and pumpkins from orchards and farms in Michigan and Indiana, according to authorities.
An estimated 7,000 pounds (3,175 kilograms) of apples were discovered missing Oct. 10 from Spicer Orchards in Fenton, Michigan. During the same week, 1,000 pumpkins were pilfered from McCallum's Orchard in Jeddo, about 15 miles (24 kilometers) north of Port Huron. There were also 50,000 apples reportedly stolen from Williams Orchard in LaPorte County, Indiana, just one mile south of the state line.
Genesee County Sheriff Robert Pickell told the Detroit Free Press that investigators do not have any suspects but that he believes the thefts were committed by a professional group.
"This is a major league operation," he said. "This is a team of pickers — a well-organized machine — with a way to put the stolen crops on the market."
Officials with Spicer Orchards said they will strengthen security with cameras and alarms, hoping to prevent future thieves.
"We just never in our lives thought we had to protect ourselves in this way. We didn't have cameras because we didn't think we needed them," said Shannon Rowe, co-owner of Spicer Orchards. "We're just a small family farm. We lived under the (idea that) everyone is good in this world and didn't think anything like this could happen. I guess we're just getting an education on the real world."
Raymond Peltier, owner of McCallum's Orchard, said his business is now being "forced" to take similar measures, which he called "unfortunate." Peltier, a disabled veteran, added the Disabled Veterans of America is helping him install cameras and other security devices.
The community's solidarity has been uplifting, he noted. Other orchards are helping by offering advice and supplies, and community members are attending Peltier's orchard in high numbers to show support.
Rowe said the crop thefts are frustrating because "you only have a few weeks to make your living for the entire year."
"Christmas isn't going to be so nice this year," she said. "We just hope that what we have on our main farm will help get us through."
Williams Orchard in Indiana could not be reached for comment.
Information from: Detroit Free Press, http://www.freep.com