This morning I went along to a harvest service on one of the local farms – it’s the second year that I’ve gone to this particular one, which rotates between a couple of nearby farms. Harvest is one of those festivals that has always felt quite odd in an urban or suburban context – certainly when I was in Glasgow and before that, in Birmingham, I was so removed from food and food preparation. Before moving to Birmingham, we were in Devon and so food seemed much closer, and the link between what was on our plates and how it got there was much easier to see. One of my friends at primary school was the daughter of the village farmer, and I have happy memories of the farm. Moving to Birmingham and then to Glasgow made that connection seem much weaker – now that I’ve moved back home and my parents have also moved, I really see its value. It isn’t all shopping at farm shops (middle class as that may sound, we do go when we can, and one of the local ones is really nice – not only is the meat incredible, the people there are wonderful!) but it leads you to appreciating the food you eat more.
As I started this post by saying, this morning I went along to a harvest service on one of the local farms. Harvest takes on a whole new meaning when some of the people you’re singing alongside do ‘plough the fields and scatter’ for their livelihoods. I think it’s sometimes easy for those of us who don’t have farming as our pattern and rhythm of life to see it as something from a Thomas Hardy novel, somehow quaint and old-fashioned, but it is so important to all of us, whether that’s for the people for whom it provides a living, or those who eat the produce, or the wider communities for whom farming is almost a part of their DNA. In urban or suburban churches, tins from supermarkets are often brought along, and nowadays these are often donated to food banks. Obviously this is usually a great initiative (with the usual caveat that food banks shouldn’t have to exist, and that people shouldn’t have to rely on donations to survive) but it does raise questions about what harvest is for, as well as who it is for. Churches can be bad at failing to recognise that there are often people relying on food banks in their midst, and instead can sometimes promote and perpetuate middle-class ideals and stereotypes. At its worst, festivals like Harvest perpetuate and exacerbate this. At their best, though, they can confront this idea and challenge it. Far from being a safe way to hide from the world, they can open us up to it.
I still hate All Things Bright and Beautiful though. Some things will never change.