Thursday, 16 August 2012

All is safely gathered in.

Friends from Essex write to say that they have almost finished harvesting. Their barley is all in, as is their rape and they are well on with the wheat. These same friends were so hit by drought early in the year that they doubted their crops would survive - but of course they have, and flourished.

Gone are the days when the life of the village depended on the harvest; when most of the men in the village worked on the farms and at harvest time roped in wives and children too in order to get in the crops. If they didn't then there would be a shortage of bread in the Winter and starvation was a real possibility.

I can remember the days when stooks stood in the fields to dry - they were lovely places to hide - and when men fashioned stacks with intricately patterned and thatched 'roofs' designed to keep the rain out. The farmer, who is considerably younger than I am, can remember them too. Now, of course, behemoths course up and down the wheat fields at a great speed, almost without the intervention of man at all. And they do this unless it is raining or has recently rained, because the wheat can be quickly transported to the drier and dried.

Now they are even breeding varieties of wheat with shorter and shorter stalks. As I said on Morning A J's blog the other day - this will make corn dollies, once such a potent symbol at harvest time, much harder to make.

And now we import wheat from the prairies of America and the giant fields of Russia and none of us gives a thought to where the grain in our bread comes from. We may still go to the Harvest Festival in our local church, decorate the windows with Michaelmas daisies, lay fruit and vegetables around the altar and sing 'All is Safely Gathered In' and 'We Plough the Fields and
Scatter'. But its meaning is more symbolic than it is a reality.

But of course there are many places throughout the world where it is still very much a reality, where failure of crops through the weather or through awful senseless warfare has meant pictures on the television screen in our living room as we are eating from a loaded table; pictures of wide-eyed children with bloated stomachs, held by skeletal mothers, while their menfolk are off fighting some senseless war or other. And the children are almost exhibited to the camera in a desperate effort to persuade viewers eating their Greek Salad and drinking their glass of chilled white wine, to part with some of their money.

The world has never been a fair place to live. Our accident of birth dictates the kind of life we are destined to live to some extent. But it does us no harm at all to reflect on how lucky we are as we gather in this year's produce and store it in our barns and fill our freezers, and sing our harvest songs.


MrsL said...

Nice post, very pertinent as crops are failing around the world due to adverse weather conditions - something there will be a lof more of in the future I fear.

Heather said...

Good to know that your friend's harvest is safely gathered. This year has certainly been a trial for so many.
I often feel guilty when seeing those adverts you mention, knowing that I eat probably more than my body needs. In an ideal world all resources, natural or otherwise could be fairly spread.

John "By Stargoose And Hanglands" said...

I can't believe how quickly the crops down here have ripened this year in spite of frequent rains. But everything seems to have caught up and be back on schedule. Very few farms down here even bother about the straw; just chop it up and plough it in.

Dartford Warbler said...

A thoughtful post. We do live in a topsy turvy, very unequal world.

Good to hear that your Essex friends have had a good harvest despite the weather this summer. Things must be much harder in the drought states of the USA and no doubt global wheat prices will soon be rocketing, and so will the price of flour and bread.

angryparsnip said...

Interesting post and nice to know your friend harvest in safely in. I hope your will be all safely tucked in too.
There is a huge drought in our mid-west and the farms have no crops and are selling off their herds, nothing for them to eat.
It will be a hard winter for many.

cheers, parsnip

Cloudia said...

Memories, so precious.
Thoughts, so true.

Always nourishing to visit here, my friend

Aloha from Honolulu
Comfort Spiral
> < } } ( ° >

Unknown said...

This is a really thought provoking post's one that I'll likely think about all day.

There's an element of nostalgia in your writing but rather than being sentimental I think it's hitting on a point that most Brits don't give much thought to. Most of the UK's food, even staples that grow really well here, are now shipped in from abroad. It's a scary thought really since food security should really be a top priority of every country.

There's quite a strong Farmers Union on the IoM and I'm happy to say that most of the bread on the island comes from locally grown wheat. In fact there's a small wheat field growing just across from the house. But across in the UK it seems that support of farmers and local food production isn't as strong.

As a farmer/farm-wife what are your thoughts on how local agriculture is heading in the UK?

Elizabeth said...

Some pretty sad stuff going on here re harvesting.
The most serious drought in 50 years.
So glad things are better your end. Was happy to hear things are going well in Essex!

The Weaver of Grass said...

Thanks for visiting. There are some thought-provoking comments here.
As to the state of farming and where it is heading, as Tanya asks - well I can't really speak for farmers now that we are semi-retired. I do know that were we still a dairy farm then we would have gone out of business ny mow because the supermarkets would have cut the price of milk lower than we could afford to produce it. Farming in this country, it seems to me, is going bigger and bigger. The only way farmers can make a living is to go big - in a way that is sad as so many small farmers see farming as a way of life rather than as a business.