Today has been my church’s harvest festival. Harvest is one of those services that feels more rooted in a particular social context than something like Christmas or Easter – it feels like something that comes from our rural history, the days in which everyone in the community was acutely aware of whether or not the harvest had failed. We’ve become divorced from that – refrigeration, air travel and supermarket mega-chains have conspired to hide the reality of where our food comes from (strawberries are available all year round, and how many rice paddies are there in the UK?), and so in that context, harvest festivals take on a new edge. Because the hidden aspects of our food often impact some of the most vulnerable people and environments on the planet.
For instance, the need for space to grow this food also has knock-on effects – according to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, agriculture is the primary cause of deforestation, with the attendant ecological and cultural losses that come from the extinction of species and the threat to tribal cultures. Our commercial choices have ramifications for people a couple of continents away.
(It’s worth noting that one of the chief causes of the 1930s American ‘Dust Bowl’ was over-farming.)
That why organisations such as the Fairtrade Foundation are so important. In a world where people exist on a couple of pence a day, it’s a moral imperative to ensure they receive a decent income. A worker deserves a wage, not exploitation.
It’s not just about exploitation though, it’s about what happens when the harvest fails. We’ve all seen news pictures from the Horn of Africa, so I’m just going to point you to the Disasters Emergency Committee website.
And yeah, I can be cheesy – you can’t spell ‘harvest’ without ‘share’.
There’s a more specifically religious slant to all this as well – if God is creator (via whatever mechanism) of all there is, then respect for that creation and acknowledgement of God’s role in sustaining it should become part of worship. This is something that various branches of religious thought have lost sight of – certainly there seems to be a view among sections of American Christianity that the environment is there for the taking with no regard to the consequences – plunder not stewardship. Maybe that’s tied up with the USA’s roots in apocalyptic millenarianism, but as we’ve seen above, that sort of thinking has terrible ramifications. Churches need to adopt a view of the environment that’s rooted in love and compassion, not greed.
So like many other traditional services, there was wisdom behind the development of harvest festivals. In a world where most of us don’t a connection to the soil, it’s good that there are community events that seek to remind us that there’s more to life than concrete and shppping malls – and I’m speaking as a man who doesn’t walk through nearly enough green spaces. We need to take a moment to stop, look at all that we have, and be thankful, mindful that we’re part of a wider, greener world.