Cherl Denz of Terra Optima Farm Market shares her story

How one woman’s faith in humanity is restored after robbery

Thu, 09/04/2014 - 10:30am

ROCKLAND — On Aug. 22, Cheryl Denz got a call that no business owner wants to receive. As the owner of the Tera Optima Farm and its eponymous Farm Market on the southern end of Rockland’s Main Street, she learned that the store had been robbed that morning. She recalls being stoic and calm.

“We gave the store a pretty thorough going over before I called police,” she said. 

In a “Farm Report” blog Denz writes for the Farm Market, she shared this news with the community that day, as well as her reaction:

My feelings were not of anger, but of confusion.
And I still was holding out hope that perhaps it wasn't true.
But it was.
Someone had come into the market and stolen all the deposit money.
There was a somber atmosphere in the market, when I arrived.
I asked a few more questions and called the police.
I can't go into too many details here, because the police are conducting an investigation.
My day was full of phone calls and anxiety.
Now what?
The market cannot afford to have a loss like that.
Last week, I removed a shoplifter I believed had been stealing from us since we opened.
It took me this long to catch the person, definitely in the act.
This week, our entire deposit was taken.
I am beside myself.
I went to see my friend, Suzanne later that day.
I had held myself together all day.
But when I saw her, I burst into tears.

Nearly two weeks later, the crime is still under investigation, but a whirlwind of emotions has broadsided Denz. 

“This is such a new business,” she said. “Everything I had was put into this store. I even sold cattle to make this store happen and I do whatever I can to keep it going. So, any amount of money that is taken by shoplifting or an outright theft is downright devastating. If you came to me and said you were in need, I’d do whatever I could. And if I couldn’t personally do it, I’d find someone who could.”

Within a day, dozens of people in the community who found out about the loss expressed their support on her Facebook page and in person.

Denz wrote on her blog the next day:

I was overwhelmed yesterday by the out pouring of support from my community for me and the market.
Calls, emails, personal visits...
Offers of help, hugs, handshakes...
The postings on this Facebook page were also heartwarming and informative.
Still, the events of the previous day loomed large inside me.
I felt a little flat, almost as if I had experienced a death in my family.
As soon as was reasonable, I left the market, to see my cows.

“My first love is my farm,” she said. “I could work there 24 hours a day. This market is tougher than anything I’ve ever done. Tougher than chasing pigs in the woods, shoveling cow manure, or felling trees.”

Days later she was still struggling to make sense of her own personal loss and try to figure out how to make up for the stolen money.

In that following week, a customer contacted her to ask what happened and a day later Denz received a check in the mail.

“It was a significant amount of money. I was speechless,” she said. “In her note she said this was her way of paying forward. I just cried. Then after that, I got the sweetest letter from a teenage girl named Pearl I’d met at the Union Fair auction the night before the robbery, asking me to not give up. There was $20 from her and $20 from her parents in the envelope. And once again, I had to leave the store, my eyes were welling up.”

Denz said that the community has surprised her again and again. People have sent her little gifts in the mail and restaurant and business owners in Rockland have gone out of their way to buy some produce from the store.

“I really didn’t think anyone cared,” she said. “This is just a store, for God’s sake.”

At this, Denz has to take a second to wipe her eyes and compose herself.

“You would think after a couple of weeks, I’d have gotten this out of my system,” she said with a little laugh.

The best was yet to come. A friend of Denz named Todd Bross, who happened to be a member of the Facebook community Midcoast Eating & Drinking Society, organized a cash mob through the group to benefit Terra Optima Farm Market Aug. 30.

In a partial statement to the group he posted: “We need businesses like this and people like Cheryl in our foodie community. She has given much, some idiot(s) took from her. Let's give it back many times over....”

“I didn’t even know what a cash mob was,” said Denz. For the uninitiated, a cash mob is a loose, grassroots group whose purpose is to gather at one store with $20 to spend and to flood it with revenue on a predetermined day.

“All week people who were part of the cash mob were coming in and on that Sunday, we already had people at the door before we opened,” she said.

All in all, she estimates 100 people who were part of the cash mob, including friends and neighbors as well as people from out of state came through the store that week.

“That night I went home,” she said. “I was worn out in a happy way. I never thought the community would rally like that. People told me they hoped these good things would outweigh these bad things and it has helped tremendously. But when I walk through the store, there is still this feeling of violation and I don’t know how long it will take to shake that.”

In the final words of her blog that addressed this issue she stated:

Through the events of the last few days, I have felt your kindness and support in a way that I have no words to describe.
You are a wonderful community to be a part of.
I feel blessed. Truly.
Thank you.
I'm off to the barn.
I'll be back later.

Kay Stephens can be reached at