Tag Archives: harvest

Apple harvest

At the weekend, I had the lovely opportunity to be involved with harvesting and processing apples. It was a small, non-commercial thing, helping out friends whose garden has a lot of fruit trees. I picked apples, cut apples, spent quite a lot of time extracting juice from apples. I drank freshly squeezed apple juice – which is wonderful. Someone else made apple crumble, and we ate it together. There were some spontaneous bursts of collective singing, and an improvised apple shanty.

This kind of seasonal working and feasting creates not only a sense of community, but also a rich relationship with the time of year. For me, it also creates a sense of connection with ancestors. I’ve found that around jam making, preserving, making Christmas puddings and other seasonally specific domestic activities. I feel it at the first point in the year when I can hang washing outside. These are the things people have been doing for a very long time. The technology changes, a bit, the recipes evolve, the songs get new words, or new songs are added, but the essence remains the same.

Ever since the industrial revolution, working people have been sold an idea of convenience. That it is better for us to work just the one job, and buy most of what we need from other people who are doing just that as their job. Before then, most of us would have been much more involved with the practical realities of daily life. We get told all the time how much we want and need convenience – usually this information comes in the form of adverts for products.

We get told that doing a job the slow way and by hand is drudgery, old fashioned, and undesirable. My experience has always been that going the slow way gives me more. I can’t do it for everything all the time, in no small part because I don’t live in a space that would allow that. I need a bigger kitchen, some workshop room and a bit of garden. Maybe, one day this will be possible.

Self sufficiency is clearly hard work – but it also isn’t what most of our ancestors did. When you work together in a community, any given job doesn’t take so very long, and you can focus on what’s most urgent, and share the loads out and deploy people where they are more useful. As an ambidextrous person, I was able to work the apple juice machine faster than a single-handed person could, I enjoy the opportunities to use my hands that way. Other people are better suited to other things, and sharing the work out this way has its advantages.

Communal working for the good of your community has a very different feel from paid work. There’s more investment in doing the best possible job, there’s no incentive to rush, and there’s room to have fun while you’re doing it. ‘Convenience’ offers none of that.

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Mixing your seeds

“You shall not sow your field with two kinds of seed” Leviticus 19:19

For context this is in the bit of the Bible that is often cited as justifying homophobia, but which also tells people not to mix cotton and wool in their clothes, not to eat shellfish and that crossbreeding cows is wrong.

In the normal scheme of things, people only bother to tell people off for things they are actually doing. Many things about historical Pagans have been inferred from stuff Christians were complaining about and official pronouncements to stop that kind of thing. So perhaps we can reasonably assume that pre-Leviticus, people were mixing their seed.

I recently saw a film called In Our Hands – https://inourhands.film/ which is all about food and resilience. The idea of mixing seeds came up there – if you have different types of seed, you have more resilience to climate uncertainty. There’s a better chance something will survive to provide you with a food crop as different plants favour different conditions.

It struck me, that not mixing your seeds therefore reduces resilience. It makes you more vulnerable to climate, to famine, to disaster. A people who are more vulnerable in these ways are likely to be more persuaded that they need God on their side. People who can take practical measures to keep their communities viable don’t need belief in the same way. You might want to honour deities, but you won’t feel so dependent on their whims. You won’t read punishment and judgement into every bad harvest if you’ve got a cunning system that largely avoids bad harvests in the first place.

We’re big on monocultures.

We’ve replaced God the judgemental father with the almighty power of the corporations who sell seed, fertiliser, herbicide and insecticide. These are corporations that have a pretty literal power now to damn us all to hell. Our future as a planet depends on saving our insects, revitalising our soil and having enough diversity to survive. Which makes it a good idea to start asking why we ever thought monocultures were such a good idea in the first place…

Does our monoculture habit trace back to Levicitus? Were we doing something more diverse prior to that? I don’t know, but I do know there are aspects of farming – like big fields full of a single crop – that we’ve come to take for granted. We need to start asking questions about other ways of doing things and the potential benefits.


The uneasy side of harvests

Equinoxes have always foxed me. I think in part it’s because there’s very little folk material to draw on for them.  Other festivals have seasonal activities and a wealth of traditions, but the equinoxes don’t. Here we are facing the autumn one. Grain has been harvested, fruit harvests are coming in, root crops will be harvested for some time to come. Often the festival is taken as an opportunity to consider the bounty and the harvests in our own lives, but that isn’t without issue.

When I first came to pagan ritual it was reasonable to assume that no one in the circle would be going hungry. Austerity has pushed so many people towards the edge, that I can’t contemplate harvest now without also thinking about food banks. I can’t assume, if I run a public ritual, that everyone in circle will be able to talk about bounty and harvest. I cannot make a ritual into a place of privilege or pile on the discomfort for those who come along who are really struggling.

This is all quite hypothetical in some ways because I’m not running a public facing ritual this year. But like many Pagans, I’m online talking about how we celebrate the season.

Harvest times weren’t always a cause for ancestral celebration. You don’t have to go back very far for communities to be much more dependent on what they could harvest themselves. International food trade gives many of us insulation in face of poor harvests – those of us who live in more affluent countries. Food shortages tend to push up food prices which can drive poorer regions out of the market.

Famine is still a thing. We have the means to feed everyone, but not the will. We’ve decided that profit is more important than human life or comfort. In rich countries, we’re willing to let people starve and suffer long term from malnutrition. We’re willing to let people in difficulty around the world go hungry if they can’t pay for food. We’re happy to have them growing non-food items for our market places rather than food supplies they can live on.

This is not something any of us can fix by individual action. We can however start questioning the way money and resources move around. We can challenge the priorities. What good is all of our growth and development if we can’t solve the most basic problems? What good is our technology and knowledge if people go hungry? Harvests are a matter of luck as much as anything else. Your climate and where you live also play a part. Why do we think it’s ok for the lucky to get rich at the expense of the unlucky?


What are you harvesting?

Lammas (the name comes from Loaf-Mass) and Lugnasadh, falling at the start of August, are celebrations of the grain harvest. Of course in practice, where exactly you are in the world and what the weather is like will decide how closely this date relates to your harvest. It’s also a celebration that assumes grain as the central foodstuff – not, say, rice, or potatoes, or some other staple. It assumes involvement in the grain harvest. You don’t have to go back very far to find most of the people in Britain were actively involved in bringing in the grain, but these days its all machinery and we ‘bring it in’ ground, packaged and quite probably already made into bread.

However, harvesting is an ongoing issue for all of us. Whether the seeds are literal or metaphorical varies, but what we sow, we reap. Even if we didn’t mean to sow it. Even if we had no idea what those seeds were going to do, or thought they would grow an entirely different outcome. Every day, we plant the seeds of our future lives, and every day we harvest the consequence of previous plantings.

It pays to stop and have a look at what you’re planting and harvesting.

This is a shorter than usual blog, seeded in advance with the view to a harvest of some much needed time off. I’ve spent the last few weeks with the difficult harvest of not taking enough care of myself, and I’ve decided that really needs to change, so, new things to plant.