Hard-working gardener Jeff Permar was understandably miffed when he noticed his crops coming up short in 2019. It turns out that a cunning thief had been snaffling his tasty greens from under his nose, even after he beefed up security. So the agriculturist set up a hidden camera. And when Permar saw the culprit, he couldn’t believe his eyes.
Permar lives on land in Middletown, Delaware, with his family of five. He grows greens to provide for them, so you can imagine how angry he became when his crops started vanishing. Someone or something was stealing them; the question is, what could he do about it?
At first Permar tried to deter the vegetable thief. But no matter what he did, the guilty party proved super-determined. It wasn’t just about the produce, though; as an enthusiastic horticulturist, the veggie patch was Permar’s personal project. He told The Dodo about his feelings on the issue in 2019.
The father of three said, “At first, I was very upset. I have always been an avid gardener and dealt with tons of issues, but this was a first for us.” That’s when he decided that the best way to identify the crop criminal was to catch them in the act. And so he set up a camera to do just that. But would it work?
Damaged plants are likely a growing problem in the modern world. That’s because the gardening market has experienced a huge boom since the pandemic kicked off in 2020. Apparently lockdown drove people to their gardens for something healthy to do. Plus fears over food shortages have encouraged some folks to grow their own produce.
Magazine editor Jaime Calder told Reuters in 2020 that she is one of those people. “It’s supplementary gardening,” she explained. “There’s no way this would sustain a family of five. But we’re amping it up, so we can try and avoid the store a little more in the coming months.”
The same year the Eating Well website reported that 36 percent of people across the United States were gardening more. And of those, 65 percent were inspired to do so because of the lockdown. Plus the International Association of Horticultural Producers (AIPH) reported that gardening is great for your well-being. It decreases stress, depression, anxiety and blood pressure to name just a few benefits.
Unless someone’s pilfering your plants, of course, then gardening’s probably a bit more stressful. So Permar tried to protect his crops from whoever was sneaking onto his land and taking them. In 2020 he told ABC about how he tried to deter the sneakthief, but it was all in vain.
Permar said, “No matter what I did to try to protect the garden, he always figured out a way in. I’d build a higher fence, I’d put wood around the fence trying to protect my stuff. And he just took over. There was nothing I could do, he was always a step ahead of me.”
It wasn’t the first time that Permar had had trouble with food thieves, either. His land produces a harvest that must have the local wildlife salivating at the thought. Indeed, the first summer crop yielded enough veggies to provide his family with a tasty pot roast, as Permar’s Instagram revealed.
The thriving garden grows carrots, onions, potatoes, cantaloupes and tomatoes. Permar even grows more exotic things such as Italian long hot and yellow peppers. So his milkshake brings all the boys to the yard. If by milkshake, you mean vegetables. And if by boys, you mean hungry animals. Hence the pest problems.
In the past the horticulturist has tried all kinds of things to keep his food safe. “Last year I even put a T-Rex in the garden to scare off birds,” he wrote on Instagram. We assume he means a model dinosaur! Permar also tried hanging up used CDs and even scarecrows.
With Scarecrows in mind, Permar is obviously familiar with birds stealing his crops. But whatever it was this time, it definitely wasn’t a bird. That was part of the problem. “I was really upset because I didn’t know what was eating out of the garden,” he told ABC Radio National’s Life Matters show. He had a few ideas though.
Because the crops were damaged in a way that indicated something was eating them. Thus, Permar reasoned it was some kind of animal rather than a human. He revealed to ABC, “I thought it was a deer, or it could have been a rabbit.” But how exactly would he find out what the perpetrator was?
Watching his garden constantly wasn’t practical, so the family man chose a hi-tech alternative. He set up a motion-activated camera to catch the crop-eating critter red handed. And when he watched it back, the camera had indeed caught the thief in the act. The recording showed it brazenly digging into Permar’s vegetable patch.
The thief stunned Permar as it stood there “just staring at the camera.” And he had such a devil-may-care attitude. Permar told ABC, “He was kind of saying, ‘Yeah, I’m eating your vegetables, what are you going to do about it?’ He was just so cool about it.”
Now that he’d identified the crop criminal, Permar had to decide what to do about it. Some of his friends suggested the gardener could kill the invader to end its stealing spree. Others said that capturing and relocating it off-site was a better option. But something about the creature appealed to him.
So what had been doing the damage all along? A groundhog. You’re probably already familiar with the animal thanks to the popular Groundhog Day film With Bill Murray. But even if you’re not, you may know the little creatures by one of their other names: woodchucks or whistle-pigs, because of the shrill noise they make.
Contrary to their names, though, groundhogs are not pigs, or related to them in any way. They’re actually a species of rodent called marmots. The Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History’s curator of mammals, Richard Thorington, elaborated with National Geographic in 2020. “They are giant ground squirrels is what they are,” he said.
Pennsylvania State University’s former biology professor, Stam Zervanos, added to the groundhog discussion. He said, “[Groundhogs are] the most widely distributed marmot of all of them, [with a range stretching] as far south as northern Alabama to northern Canada.” He added, “And some are even found in Alaska.” Permar was fascinated by the one in his garden, though.
The way Permar’s groundhog walked right up to the camera and chowed down amused him. “He just was so entertaining,” the gardener told ABC. In fact, he didn’t want to stop filming his new pal. “I found so much enjoyment out of it, I just kept going.”
So Permar named the groundhog “Chunk” and decided to share the creature’s adventures with the world. And what better way than starting up an account on social media under Chunk’s name? That’s how the YouTube channel Chunk the Groundhog came to be.
Since its inception in 2010, Chunk’s YouTube account has over 11 million views, and it’s approaching 99,000 subscribers. On the channel Permar described how he and his family “were absolutely shocked [by] how amazing” Chunk is. Indeed, the gardener began to see groundhogs in a way he hadn’t before.
Instead of considering the little marmots as nothing but pests, Permar realized they’re just hungry. And watching the groundhog eat filled him with fascination, especially the way Chunk seemed to know he was on film. “Chunk plops himself right in front of the camera every time and devours our produce,” Permar wrote on his YouTube profile.
“He even has the nerve to stare right into the camera like a boss,” Permar continued. It was this attitude that won over so many people, and it became Chunk’s signature power move. The groundhog became such a sensation that he even got his own annual impersonators for what has been dubbed the “Chunk Challenge.” Wanna guess what happens?
Every year Permar asks groundhog fans to do their best Chunk impression and upload it for the competition. Alongside bragging rights for being the best at marmot-mimicking, the winner also gets Chunk merchandise. And for 2021, ABC Action News assisted the gardener with the Chunk Challenge – collecting some of the entries to feature on its show.
New entrants had to compete against previous champions such as Instagram’s crocsboyy. He chose a video of Chunk munching on an apple to mimic, and the resemblance is uncanny! “The apple one kills me,” one Instagrammer commented on the entry. Another added, “When they popped up on the screen, I hollered!”
YouTube’s EllaandEva went with a clip of Chunk chowing down on broccoli, and her impression is spot on. She captures the way the groundhog stares intently at the camera and chews his food perfectly. Other viewers thought so too. “This is so accurate,” one person commented on Instagram. “Amazing imitation,” another said.
K9CopLynn is another champion who displayed her groundhog imitation talents, using a video of Chunk eating corn. In fact, he was so invested in the activity that he toppled over, which the imitator also incorporated. “The lady in the upper right is hilarious,” an Instagrammer pointed out, to which someone responded, “I could watch her all day.”
As popular as Chunk was, though, he soon had to share the spotlight. That’s because shortly after Permar created the groundhog’s YouTube channel, he caught another groundhog on camera. Yes, Chunk had found a mate, and he’d taken her on dinner dates to Permar’s garden, too. And that’s how Chunk’s girlfriend Nibbles came to star alongside him.
Is a pair of adorable groundhogs not enough for you? Then you’re in luck, since you know what happens when two groundhogs love each other very much. That’s right ‒ they eat a lot! But seriously, Chunk and Nibbles have since had children, which got named by online fans. With the addition of Chibbles, Nugget and Chip, their family now numbers five. Just like Permar’s family!
But with so many groundhogs invading his garden, you may be wondering how Permar manages to pull in any produce at all. Well, in 2020 the gardener gifted Chunk and his family a garden of their own to feast in. The theory was that if they had something to call their own, they wouldn’t pester Permar’s crops anymore.
With their own patch, Permar told ABC the groundhogs “can come and go as they please.” And he keeps a watch on this extra garden and fills it with his own produce if Chunk’s supply gets low. But he’s not the first gardener to try this decoy method, as Gardening Australia’s previous host, Stephen Ryan, revealed.
As a veteran gardener, Ryan’s experienced the local wildlife helping themselves. He’s had similar problems with his Macedon garden, which have been beset by birds and possums feasting on his fruit trees. “You end up getting no fruit from those because they come in and they eat absolutely everything,” Ryan said.
And if you want to plant an extra garden as a method of crop control, Ryan recommends paying attention to what’s going missing. “You find out that there are certain plants that they particularly like,” he advised. However, to avoid drawing more unwanted attention to your garden, don’t plant a surplus of these preferred plants.
Ryan elaborated to ABC Australia, “These people who say they feed their possums and so they don’t eat their gardens … I think they are in fairyland because all that happens is they invite their relatives.” Permar says that his groundhog garden is doing its job so far, but it’s a cautious optimism.
“So far so good,” Permar revealed, “but I’m not too confident. I think eventually they will take that [second garden] over as well.” So the gardener began by thinking of his crop thief as a pest, but now he’s become friends with Chunk and co. Because they’ve not just changed his approach to gardening, but also his entire outlook.
“He was so cool that I embraced him,” Permar told ABC in 2021. “[Chunk] went from being a pest to being a friend; almost, you know, like part of the family.” And with that connection came an understanding. Not just of Chunk, but of other garden visitors that he previously might have labelled unwanted.
The gardener continued, “I’m more compassionate towards animals and the struggles that they go through. They’re just out here trying to survive; trying to live. And if I can provide for them, that’s what I’ll do.” Permar says that, technically, the land is Chunk’s just as much as his; he just planted the food on it.
So now Permar’s Instagram and YouTube feeds don’t just feature Chunk and his family. It has other guests too, including Posse the possum and Pesty the squirrel. But what’s next for Chunk? Well, he received his own theme song in 2021 called “Chunk Don’t Eat Junk.” And you know you’ve reached the big time when you’ve got your own theme song. Congrats, Chunk!