Apple scrumping on an industrial scale has devastated a Lewes community group.
Raiders struck at The Secret Orchard, removing all the fruit from 70-plus trees and all the windfalls.
Not only apples were stolen from the Cockshut Road venue in Lewes, but also pears, damsons and plums.
The produce was destined for Malling Food Bank, and also for a cider-making initiative by the Helping Arms Eco Project to supply local pubs and raise funds.
Police are investigating the raid at the 10-acre site and Helping Arms is offering a £1,000 reward for information leading to the conviction of the culprits.
Founder Mathew Moulding said the raid – which removed all the first crop from the trees which were planted thre years ago – was “soul-destroying”.
He said: “It’s a kick in the teeth that sets us back but luckily the trees themselves were not damaged.”
Friend Helen Chiasson, who has known Mr Moulding’s wife Samantha for 25 years, said: “Matt and Sam have started from scratch and have been motivated to help local deserving people by providing them with something positive to do by helping create and plant the raised vegetable beds and planting the fruit trees.
“I am desperately sad that this has happened, not just as so much of Sam’s and Matt’s time and effort has been in vain but that the Malling Food Bank members have missed out on this lovely, local produce.
“As a leader of the Fitzjohn’s Food Bank, I am committed to providing our members with as much fresh fruit and vegetables as possible as these items are what often gets cut from tight food budgets but are so crucial for physical and mental health.
“This theft has affected me deeply as I know how these apples would have helped the Malling Food Bank members and would have been used to financially support the food bank.”
She added: “I have had reward posters printed and laminated and will be putting them around the Priory Park, local pubs etc ... Someone must know something.”
It’s by no means the first time The Secret Orchard has been targeted. Three months ago £2,000-worth of chicken coops were stolen, thus denying the group egg production.
Two crops of vegetables were stolen last year and one this year.