What are your harvest memories? Perhaps you are privileged to recall large family gardens, pumpkins running rampant, corn puffing up on stalks, the wonder of potatoes hidden under the ground, and fruit trees laden with apples, plums and pears. Perhaps your experience is to know, that whatever else you might be without – it won’t be simple wholefood in this our country, the place of agricultural and horticultural abundance.
One memory of harvest for me is watching a group of children creating their first vegetable garden. A tiny school with around 20 children, who pored over seed catalogues, and consulted with each other on what to plant in that first year. Then the labour of digging to create a garden out in the school paddock, the wondering whether tiny seeds could become nourishing food, the horror when the first seedlings were wiped out by rabbits, and the exhilaration of watching their crops mature. These children decided that to celebrate the harvest, they would have a feast day. Everyone who had helped to create their garden would be invited, along with their families and those who lived in the district. The menu, they decided, had to come from what was growing in the garden. On the feast day, the children formed teams to harvest and prepare dishes: recipe books were clutched in chubby little fingers, peas were shelled, beans sliced, lettuces and cabbages turned into salads. Potatoes were dug, corn shucked and herbs chopped. Little eyes grew larger as they realised the full extent of their harvest.
And then there were the carrots. Two young boys, about 8 years old, were in charge of the carrots. Everyone had decided there would be carrot sticks – raw and crisp, and then boiled caramelised carrots. And they would save some of the crop for the rest of the term – carrot sticks for morning teas. The two boys were shown how to pull carrots carefully. And then they were left to harvest enough for the feast. But for those two little boys, the excitement of seeing the bright orange carrots coming up out of the soil was beyond their wildest imagination. And it all got too much. They pulled carrot after carrot, dizzy with the joy of each discovery. Eventually, they arrived to prepare their carrots, not a single carrot left in the garden, but their hands, indeed their arms struggling to hold the entire crop. Their faces beaming, poking over the carrot tops. The joy and celebration of harvest was obvious, and there were exclamations of “Look, look what was in the soil”. For those two boys, the wonder and treasure of the harvest was about discovering how vegetables grew. These boys could hardly believe their eyes that what had started as tiny carrot seed, and had grown to be feathery green tops, could also hold hidden in the earth, fleshy orange carrots.
What kind of harvester are you? Do you cherish each gift from the soil, and like those two boys find that the joy of fresh produce is reason for celebration? Or does the reality of being so removed from the actual cultivation and harvest of what we eat, mean that the wonder of seed and harvest seems distant. It is on such occasions as today, that we have space to pause and notice. To recognise all who work, so that we can eat. From sower, to harvester, farmer to market gardener and then all who process our food ready for us to simply walk the aisle of the supermarket picking up all we need. Here, New Zealand is a land that provides for our nourishment and the nourishment of many in our world. And yet, we as a nation are also food wasters. An audit by the Hawkes Bay District Council this year found that NZ households discard about $500 a year in edible food. Good food just thrown away.
We know that what is the abundance here in NZ is not the norm for most in our world. Next weekend is World Vision’s 40 hour famine with a focus on Bangladesh, where there is a very high level of child malnutrition & poverty. In Bangladesh, nearly 8 million children are suffering from malnutrition. 1 child out of every 17 will not make it to their 5th birthday. The average family income is $21 a week making feeding a family very difficult. Yet for a mere NZ $10, the price of a coffee and muffin here, a family of 5 could be given all they need – tools and seeds – to start a veggie patch, to plant, to care for and to harvest their own veggies, and to save seed for the following year. A gift to family who could experience just like those two little boys with the carrots did, the wonder of growing their own food.
Then there is Nepal. One of the poorest nations of the world. The problem has only worsened following the earthquakes. The main staple for Nepalese communities is rice. And the short planting season for rice is right now. Should the planting time be missed, then there will be no harvest in 2016. Right now, the rice fields are in grave danger of not being planted because enormity of the effects of the earthquakes: the loss of life, the grief and trauma being experienced by those who have survived, the fears and uncertainty in the light of ongoing aftershocks, and the immediate needs of housing and infrastructure. The implications for the 1 in 6 Nepalese who are already suffering from malnutrition are long term. There are several ways of gifting into that hardship, one being coming to breakfast at the Community Café here at the Cathedral on a Tuesday morning, where all the income received is being gifted to Nepal through World Vision.
In our world, 1 person dies every 4 seconds from hunger or hunger related causes. That is 15 people every minute, 900 in an hour. Over 21,000 people will die today, and most of them will be children. The need is enormous. We can be swamped by it, overwhelmed by the hopelessness. And perhaps we turn away because we feel that it is beyond us to do anything.
There was once a crowd of people who gathered to listen to Jesus, and after 3 days of listening intently, it was time for them to leave. As Jesus looked at the crowd, he felt compassion for them, as many had travelled a great distance to come and listen. Jesus asked his followers to feed the people, telling them that to send them home without food, was to risk them fainting from hunger on their way. There were some 5 thousand men as well as women and children. The task seemed to be beyond anything possible as they didn’t have any food. And then one of the followers of Jesus found a young boy with 2 small fish and 5 barley loaves. Really just enough for his own lunch. If you know about young boys, you will know that they love their food but this was a remarkable boy, because he was prepared to give all his food away. He gave his food to Jesus. Jesus prayed over it, giving thanks for even this small gift of nourishment, and then distributed it to all. In giving it away, everyone was fed, over 5000 men plus women and children. It was a miracle. I imagine that boy’s eyes grew larger and larger as he watched what happened with the gift of his lunch. His tiny offering, selflessly given, and feeding so many. (John 6:1-15)
What is our attitude? Do we treasure the harvest? Do we share what we have with those around us? Do we take a little of what we have and give it away freely? What if every family in NZ eliminated their edible food waste and gave that $500 saved to feed the hungry? Would it be too greater cost, if we determined to feed the world?
What will you do with this day of harvest festival? Will you offer a sense of gratitude for the goodness of this land? Will you slow down as you eat, and reflect on the work of those who labour so that you can be fed? Will you grow some food for yourself and to spend time in contemplation as you watch the seeds sprout and grow until harvest? Will you determine to eat without waste, the food you grow or buy? Will you share your food with another? Will you simplify your eating, and give the money saved to an organisation that will ensure that others who are hungry will eat? Will you, like the young boy, offer to God your resources so that all may be fed?
Let us allow ourselves to be challenged and change as we consider the abundance that we have in this very precious land we are privileged to call our home.