By Clark Judge.
Mary and Charlie Rickert run a family-owned and operated farm stand that’s easy to find in Killingworth. Just drive north on Route 81, pass the Congregational Church and look to your right. There you’ll see a wooden red cart just off the road, with a sign that reads “Leightsinger Farm.”
You can’t miss it. Except now you can.
The sign is gone. The “Open” flag that flew above it has been removed. And the bins are empty. There are no vegetables. There is no corn. And there is no Mary or Charlie Rickert.
In short, the stand is closed.
The Rickerts on Thursday were victimized by their fourth robbery since Memorial Day weekend, with thieves ripping a secured cash box from their stand and stealing upwards of $250 in cash. Charlie Rickert made the discovery early that evening and reported the incident to police.
The impact was immediate. The Rickerts closed the stand permanently, notifying the public in an emotional Facebook post.
“It was extremely devastating,” said a distraught Mary Rickert.
Almost immediately, there was a response – with dozens of local residents taking to the internet to express their outrage, sympathy and support. As of Saturday evening, there were nearly 250 “likes” of the Facebook post and 106 comments, with more than a handful of concerned individuals offering to make donations.
In fact, one already has.
When Mary went to the stand Friday morning to clean out what was left, she found a business card from Bob and Kathy Tobey of Hollow Tree Farm, with a substantial donation attached. The Rickerts have never met the Tobeys and know little about their farm, one reason Mary was overwhelmed by the gesture. But the other was the hand-printed message on the back of the card.
“Please don’t give up,” it read. “We are all behind you.”
That response has been repeated over and over by others, either through texts, e-mails or Facebook comments, and it has Mary Rickert thinking about reconsidering her decision to shutter the stand forever.
“I was surprised at how many people good people there are,” she said. “Instead of focusing on the bad that happened I was overwhelmed by the good people of this town and the surrounding towns.”
That attitude is a marked departure from her initial response. When she first was learned of the robbery, she was crushed — breaking down in tears as she told her husband to close the stand permanently. She and daughter Jessica had started it seven years ago, and Jessica made her promise to keep it open before succumbing to cancer four summers ago at 42.
And she had. Until now.
“It’s very emotional because of my daughter,” said Mary. “The farm was started because of her. So the first thing that came to my mind when this happened was Jessica. It was a flashback to me.”
But there was another flashback that was nearly as meaningful. When someone asked Mary how her late grandmother would advise her – the same grandmother after whom Leightsinger Farm is named – she knew the answer. And, suddenly, what seemed like a logical decision became more complicated, demanding time before a resolution was made.
“My grandmother would say, ‘Get back on the horse,’ “ said Mary. “She used to say that all the time: ‘Don’t be afraid of that. Get back on the horse.’ A lot of people said, ‘Please do not shut down the stand.’ So I would like some time to think about it and consider my options.”
Nevertheless, she already made one decision: She’s asking persons interested in making donations to show their support instead by appearing at Leightsinger Farm on Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021 between 10:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. to buy a combination of hamburger and corn. It will be the Rickerts’ last sale of produce for the year, though they plan to participate in the Nov. 13 Killingworth Farm Tour.
“I want to thank everybody for supporting us,” Mary Rickert said, “but I don’t want to make this a sympathy thing. I think it’s important to have clean food, and it’s my way of giving back to the community in my daughter’s name.”
Photo by Clark Judge.