The Apple Farmer & The Thieves

A Christmas Fairy Tale

I wrote this fairytale in 2012, and I repost it every Christmas. Last year, I started to feel a little hopeful that people had started waking up to the presence of the thieves. This year, I feel the thieves have achieved their biggest apple haul so far… 

Once upon a time, there was an apple farmer. The farm that he owned had been in his family for generations, and was known all over for producing the most delicious apples around. The farmer worked very hard at maintaining his orchard, and keeping up the high standards that his father and grandfather before him had been known for.

One year, however, he had a bad crop. When it came to totting up the harvest, he found he was down about 20%. Disappointed, he wondered what could have happened to affect the yield so drastically. Was he doing something wrong? Was it the weather? He hoped that next year would be a bumper crop to compensate.

What he didn’t know, was that a small group of friends had taken such a liking to his apples (understandably, because they were the finest apples you ever tasted), and decided they would like some of these apples for themselves. So they had been sneaking in to the orchard at night, and stealing the apples.

One of these men was the local butcher. Next time the farmer was in the butcher’s shop, the butcher asked him how he was doing. The farmer told him how his yield was down that season, and he thought maybe it was due to the bad weather they had had that year. This gave the butcher an idea. One of the other thieves was the owner of the local paper. Together, they decided to write a story in the paper about how crops were failing because of the excessive rain they had had that year. Then when the farmer read the story, it would confirm his suspicions, and divert his attention away from the thieves.

The following year, this unscrupulous bunch of men felt they could improve on their plan if they started spreading stories even before the harvest came. This way, the farmer would be prepared for the shortfall, and even less suspicious. So they published stories about the long dry spell they had had that year, and how it was likely to affect harvests, especially fruit harvests.

Lo and behold, the farmer’s harvest was 25% down that year. Now the farmer knew it was down to the weather and there was nothing he could do. Resigned, he let go of some of his staff, and made cutbacks to the household budget. Next time he saw the butcher, they chatted about the bad luck he was having. “There’s nothing I can do about it,” said the farmer. “The weather is the weather. I will find ways to cope. Next year will be better.”

The butcher, the newspaper owner and their friends couldn’t believe how well their plan was going. They were getting the finest apples for nothing, and the farmer had no idea. Before the next harvest, they spread news of a virus that affected crops in the area. The virus was caused by microscopic bugs which were not visible to the human eye but ate away at the fruits and destroyed them. That year, the farmer’s crop was down 30%. He started talking to the other farmers in the area about the problems he was having. He found he was the only one affected by the virus that year, which was odd. Maybe those bugs had a particular taste for apples. He talked to his neighbour, a wheat farmer, about his problems. As it happened, the wheat farmer was also one of the thieves. The apple farmer asked him if he had any ideas as to what he could do, and the sneaky wheat farmer had an idea.

“Maybe,” he said, “maybe the reason I didn’t get affected by the virus was this bug spray I use. Have you tried anything like that? I get it direct from the manufacturer. He’s an old friend, so he gave it to me to try out. It seems like it really works. I can get you some cost price if you like. That might help.”

The apple farmer, after three poor harvests, was desperate for help. This was an idea that seemed like it might work, and he accepted the wheat farmer’s assistance gladly. What he didn’t know was that no such spray existed. The wheat farmer intended to sell him some harmless cleaning fluid, and profit further from the apple farmer’s problems. He went back to his friends and told them the good news. They had a meeting and decided that if the apple farmer was so stupid not to realise he was being duped, why not try out their plan on some of the other farmers. If they were going to all the effort of inventing news stories and manufacturing fake products, why not extend the scheme to other producers in the area, like the vegetable farmer, who grew a wide variety of delicious vegetables, and the dairy farmer who had the fattest cows and chickens. So they sold them all the spray, and this year they published a story about the winds from the east, and how they were bringing an airborne virus that was a danger to all crops.

However, as they were now stealing from a few farmers, they decided to steal less from the apple farmer. This year, his crop was only down 15% on what it was before the thieves had started on him. This, he put down to the new spray, and bought twice as much the following year. He began to forget that he had ever had a good harvest, and just be grateful for the fact that he had the spray, and it wasn’t dipping even lower.

This continued year after year after year. The thieves got very good at stealing the best fruits without being seen, and lying to cover their traces. The other villagers came to believe that every year there would be another challenge that they must face. They became used to hardship and bearing the consequences of these difficulties. They began to forget that the land had once been abundant and their businesses profitable; that time seemed to be a lost golden age.

More than a decade in now, and every year, there was a cold spell, or a hot spell, a dry spell or a wet spell, a wind from the east or a wind from the west, something that would excuse the missing crops. One summer night, the thieves were going about their usual business in the orchard. However, this night, the apple farmer had been unable to sleep and had decided to take a walk among the trees. In the cover of darkness, the memories of happier days came flooding back. As a child, he had played under these trees. He didn’t remember his father having anything like the difficulties he was having. He wondered if he was just a bad farmer. Maybe his apples weren’t so good. Maybe he didn’t deserve a lot of money for them anyway. Maybe it was all his fault? His father’s apples were always so plentiful and delicious. This was all going through his head as he came across the wheat farmer taking some apples.

At first, he was shocked. But the wheat farmer started talking smoothly, quickly. “Oh brother, I’m sorry,” he said. “I know I should have asked. I see that now. But I was desperate. Times are hard. I’m struggling to feed the family. And well, everyone knows your apples aren’t worth so much nowadays. Really, I’m doing you a favour taking them off your hands. They used to be delicious, but really they are not so tasty as they used to be, I’m surprised anyone wants to buy them.” He talked and talked, and to be honest not all of it made sense. But in the apple farmer’s saddened and confused state, he let the words slide over him. He agreed with the wheat farmer. What were a few apples for a friend, considering the hole he was in?

The wheat farmer was such a sharp talker, he managed to leave with all the apples he’d picked, and not a cross word from the apple farmer. When he told his friends, the other thieves, what had happened, they realised that their plan was working so well, that they didn’t need to worry about being too careful anymore. They invented more “sprays” to sell to help protect the farmers against the “bugs,” and made huge profits every year. They invented more scare stories in the newspapers to distract the other villagers from the true source of their problems. They told them repeatedly that their crops weren’t as desirable anymore and devalued their work so it was easier to rob from them. They became more and more convinced that they were all so clever, and the rest of the villagers were so stupid. If they were seen stealing, they managed to convince their victims that this little small-time theft was of no consequence when compared to the daily storms and pestilence they all faced together.

In fact they became so successful, that they stopped hiding altogether. Why take the trouble to steal at night when it was so much easier in the day? They told the farmers that they were forming a protective alliance, with the butcher and the newspaper man at the head of it, and said that they were the formal committee to deal with this terrible time of pestilence and famine that they were in. As such, they were above criticism, and continued to assume all sorts of status and privilege. They proposed to collect a portion of everyone’s crops for testing, so they could develop more powerful bug sprays and ways to prevent crop failure. They demanded 10% of everyone’s harvest, and promised that this would make life better for everyone. The villagers were relieved that someone was finally doing something about their problems, and gladly agreed to the 10% tax. The thieves couldn’t believe how easily their plan was working. They invented worse disasters which they filled the newspapers with, and demanded greater percentages of the crops so they could get to the bottom of the issues faster.

They even got other people to pick the crops for them, so they didn’t have to do any work anymore. The people who picked the crops were paid hardly anything, so naturally they took a little extra for themselves, and this became accepted as well. Some of them cottoned on to what the head thieves were up to and demanded extra payments and privileges to keep the scam running. The whole thing got messier and dirtier, but the people felt more and more disempowered and at a loss to do anything about it. Without the  resources to fight back, it was as much as they could do to keep their families happy and healthy on a day to day basis, without trying to comprehend the difficult position they were all in. And still, at least they were all in it together. So they could share eachother’s sorrows and woes. A few people tried to speak out about what they perceived as the true root of the problem, but they were quickly shouted down as crazy. The butcher and his cohorts were their protective alliance, the only ones trying to sort out the mess. How could it be their fault? What a ridiculous notion.

I wish there was a Happy Ever After to this fairytale, but I’m afraid I do not know how it ends. How long before the villagers see that they are being systematically robbed and lied to? How long before they realise that most of their problems have easy solutions that are nothing to do with the ones that are being offered? Once they fully understand how they are being duped, will they be angry, will there be bloodshed? How much more heartless could the thieves become, how many more lives will they destroy, and all for the sake of their desire to get the most delicious apples? We shall have to wait and see.

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Kate Magic