On Sunday September 22nd our minister, Trevor Dixon led our Harvest Festival service ably assisted by our deacon David Hunt. Although it was a family service the children were unable to be present but Trevor still did his planned service which was all inclusive, all age worship and made a greater impact I feel. The same had happened to me one summer, which was a family service, but no children were present, so instead I had grown up children taking the roles. Afterwards they admitted it had made them feel more involved and attentive to the message.
Trevor began worship as we sang the familiar harvest hymn ‘To thee O Lord our hearts we raise,’ whilst some harvest gifts were brought in to be given to the homeless hostel and some unsuitable fruit and vegetables were sold to us in aid of the Methodist Relief Fund. David led the opening prayers before Trevor did his first activity after we sang ‘For the fruits of his creation. We were to play countdown and many of us came out to take part, as we were given vowels and consonants to hold up; the congregation soon spotted the word, namely ‘Harvest’ and we rearranged ourselves into the correct position. Then we were all challenged to see how many words we could make from those letters, especially to do with food; many were suggested amongst them; starve, eat, ear, rash and rest. It was fun and made us all think.
Trevor then asked for a family to come and take part and suggested the Stangrooms and their daughter Christine and they came and sat down round a table together and Trevor gave them a loaf of bread, which happened to be a wholemeal loaf from the Co-op. He then put a label round the mother Margaret’s neck saying ‘The Family.’ Trevor reminded us that we lived in a world with wonderful things, of which most things need to have others to supply them. The family needs to have food and clothing provided; the family round the table showed mutual love. We all then joined in taking part in the reading of ‘This is the loaf’ by Don Tordoff. It began with the words: This is the loaf that God gave; this is the family which ate the bread that made up the loaf that God gave. For each role we were invited to wear a label representing the roles. The verses continued in this way: This is the parent who bought the loaf who belonged to the family which ate the bread that made up the loaf that God gave; This is the shopkeeper who owns the shop who sold the loaf to the parent so fair who belonged to the family; This is the man who drove the van which brought the loaf to the shopkeeper’s shop; This is the lady who wrapped the loaf and filled the van, driven by the man; This was the baker who kneaded the dough and baked the loaf which the lady then wrapped; This is the miller who ground the flour to supply the baker, who kneaded the dough and baked the loaf; This is captain of the ship which brought the wheat from across the sea to go to the miller who ground the flour; This is the docker on Canada’s shore who loaded the hold of the cargo ship which the captain sailed to bring the wheat to go to the miller; This is the farmer on Canada’s plains who drove the combine to harvest the wheat which the docker loaded onto the ship; This is the seed that started it all which the farmer planted months before and watched it grow with tender care so he could one day harvest the grain which the docker loaded onto the ship! That poem described the food chain involved in producing a loaf of bread for the family’s table.
Apparently before the seed is planted the plant breeder produces different seeds and then it is decided which to be supplied to the farmer; it has to be planted in fertile soil. The agronomists advise the farmers about the treatment to combat diseases. The farmer checks the crops regularly, treating as necessary, until it is harvested in the summer. The straw is then bailed to be stored or sent to the livestock farmers and the merchant collects the grain and sells it for bread or if it is not suitable for bread for animal food production. It has to be frozen within 48 hours of picking so it can be processed for animal feed.
Trevor has heard that this year’s yield of potatoes is great, there have been high yields of winter barley better than last year. All this is dependant on the weather but a plentiful harvest reduces the price of wheat as it is so abundant. In December the price of wheat was set as £50 lower than last year. The problem for arable farmers is when to sell their crops because of falling prices. Good quality agricultural land is of high value, so the farmer considers whether the more profitable option might not be to sell the land, but then in future years poor harvests might improve the price; which is the better choice? This year prices at the life stock market look good, as there is a shortage of beef, when production was cut during the lean years. The prices of lamb are also recovering as there is a shortage of lamb after the early snow and very cold spring.
My computer tutor at the Acorn Centre is a tenant farmer’s wife and they lost more lambs this spring because of the cold; apparently her husband came in for a drink to warm up before returning to the fray, only to discover that twin lambs had been born in the meantime and had died from the cold. Kath was obviously upset but as a farmer she is well aware of the vagaries of the weather.
Pig farmers too see the cost of feed rise and fall, buying in at the higher price but then the prices reduce. It is a balance for the farmers to decide whether to sell or buy which causes many problems and there is a high suicide rate among farmers, when balancing the books gets too difficult. Those statistics make us feel very sad, but we have much to rejoice in the harvest this year. We recognise that because there are so many people in the chain of production, someone in the line needs to break even or profit to keep going. What we have is not going up either, so how does the economy work? It does not seem to work.
Of course there is the chain of meat production from the haulier to the abattoir and butcher or supermarket. The dairy farmer feeds the cows to enable them to produce milk, which is sent to the dairy, then the supermarket, small shops or delivered to our doorsteps by the milkman; so many people involved. He concluded the sermon with a joke of imagining a cow looking at a dairy van and seeing that the milk is pasteurised with added vitamins and minerals and commenting that it made them feel inadequate.
David then read the Old Testament reading from Deuteronomy 11v8-18 after we sang ‘Praise and thanksgiving’.
We are so dependant on the weather. Last year began with a drought and a hose pipe ban then almost continuous rain and flooding. In August this year Bob Baker’s harvest thoughts where the governing factor is the weather. The harvest goes on between rainy days and the cold winter affects crops; apparently there was a bumper harvest of peas and strawberries this year! Because of this abundance there have been too many peas to freeze within 48 hours of picking, so many have been sent to be processed into animal feed. There have also been a great yield of potatoes this year and high yields of winter barley, much better than last year. The winter wheat was good quality, but it can alter depending on the weather. As the wheat is so abundant the prices are falling and a price of £50 lower has been recommended. The problem is where to sell the crops at the lower prices and it puts pressure on arable farmers as to whether to sell some of their good agricultural land as it has a high value, because of the fall in wheat prices. The livestock market is looking very good as there is now a shortage in beef due to earlier cutbacks in production and lamb prices are recovering after the cold spring and snow decimated lamb survival. The fall in the cost of wheat reduces the cost of feed for pig farmers, but they have had to buy it at the higher agreed price, which increases their costs. Sheep farmers need to balance the production and selling costs to make a profit to keep going. The stresses in farming lead to high suicide rates, which is very sad, when those pressures become too much. Yet we rejoice in harvest, because there are so many people involved in the chain of production, where some need to break even or even make a profit. The money we have is not increasing either but we still need to buy food to eat, pay for our homes and heating costs. How does the economy work, Trevor wonders? It doesn’t appear to work.
Yet in the past there have been innovations by people like JethroTull, who invented the seed drill; Isaac Newton who discovered the laws of gravity and the laws of motion; and the engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel who created the Great Western Railway and bridges such as the Clifton Suspension Bridge. The great British farmer helps to put the great into Britain, so we are grateful for all who serve us in that way. This is us in our country – what about rest of the world?
We sang ‘The Harvest is here’ which was a hymn I did not know; the first verse rejoices in the bounty of the harvest we have grown as love gifts to God; the second verse calls us to share our talents and time to honour God through our love for our neighbours; and the final verse looks forward to God’s harvest when all violence is ended and all creation restored shall bow in worship of our Lord.
David then led the intercessions. The service concluded as we sang, ‘We plough the fields and scatter.’ The service was both informative and challenging as it showed us the problems facing farmers and producers at each stage of production and the part we are to play in sharing what we have with those less fortunate than ourselves.