Saturday, September 12, 2015

FALL HARVEST. HEY! WHAT'S THAT MEAN?

FALL HARVEST  Food supply. Harvest. Fall Harvest. Visit a farm. Visit a roadside stand. 

That word combination may mean special decorations on the porch or in the entryway, like pumpkins on bales of hay. Or perhaps, to you, it means picking fruit from vines you planted in your backyard.  



    


Photos of my friend LeaAnne’s backyard garden, September 2015

I live in the Tualatin Valley, a large urban/agricultural patchwork area to the west of Portland, Oregon. It’s easy for me to drive along the fields and see that fall harvest means the cutting and bundling hay, the picking of apples, the harvesting of grapes, the cutting and threshing wheat and other grains, and the gathering grass seed.

“What about the family farm,” you might wonder. In my case, years before my birth, my father’s family had given up their farm in Spokane County, Washington. Too bad for me. I would have visited the farm during the fall harvest, I’m sure, but I was born too late. I’ll bet it’s that way with most of us.

My dad, though, was raised on the farm and remained a life-long farmer at heart, even after he moved to the city. He and my mom planted a garden in the back yard each year and assigned chores to me as long as I lived in their home. So I know what it means to fertilize, weed, and water. I picked vegetables like corn and zucchini squash in the fall. That is my tiny own personal experience with the fall harvest.

Or would have been, except that I married Lucy. Her family’s experience with food production and preservation was different because her grandparents were active farmers during her early years. Lucy recalls vividly her frequent visits to the farm outside of Philomath, Oregon, and took me with her to know all of this for myself.  

What did she like about visits to the farm? She loves to remember tasting ripe pears plucked from a tree in the garden. She recalls difficult work associated with fall. Etta, Lucy’s grandmother, canned just about all of the fruits and vegetables the family ate during the year. The heat in the kitchen, radiating from the wooden stove, wilted people during fall harvest and canning season. How Etta continued canning under such conditions until old age amazes everyone who knew her. Just by watching, Lucy learned that fall harvest is hard work. Pain and pleasure both are parts of the fall harvest.

The Dean of an Episcopal cathedral stood before his congregation to announce a fall harvest potluck. He said, we’ll assemble in the social hall and you can bring any food you’ve raised in your garden.  Or you’ve selected from Kroger, QFC, Whole Foods or Door to Door Organics. The congregation guffawed.

Why?

If you live in a metropolis, disconnected from the growing of crops, you go to the grocery store and select what you need from 40,000 items. You don’t need to concern yourself with planting, cultivation, cutting, preserving and so on. And, due to transportation and refrigeration you can find almost whatever you want at any time of year. In that situation, whole experience of fall harvest really has all but disappeared.

This separation from planting, growing and harvesting makes it difficult to understand much of the world’s great literature. For example: Jesus’ words, as reported in the Christian Bible: Jesus said something like--behold, I say unto you the fields are white unto harvest.

It’s hard for us to get the point of that. It’s easy for rural people though.  Look at the whiteness of the field behind this rice farmer:



Farmer with his Rice Harvest in Sierra Leone
 Source: U.S. A.I.D. photo in the public domain via Wikipedia.

I wonder what our detachment from the roots means for our experience of being human. Our food problem has become one of too many aisles in the store! Does the sheer abundance of food lead to picky eaters and food waste? Garbage, they say, consists largely of food! But food isn’t really abundant—not in a world with seven billion clamoring and competing for food. We know that when we pass by the rescue mission and witness lines of people waiting for a meal.
 
Well, here’s an idea. You may be able to take a child or grandchild to an agricultural zone outside the city. At this time of year, you may find a roadside stand where a farm family sells their produce. You may get to speak with the farmer about the food growing process and probably will see laborers collecting the harvest in a field behind the stand.

That’s a way of getting reattached to the roots of our food supply. It’s about rediscovering the essential meaning of being human. Everything else—life, love and war—depends upon food. That is the opportunity presented by the fall harvest.  

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