Time spent on a farm impresses one that harvest is truly a gift

When I can, I help out at a local farm. On about three acres of suburban backyard, my friend John Kaiahua grows enough vegetables and fruit to feed 30 or more families in a community-supported agriculture (CSA) subscription system. Those who subscribe get a delivery every week of whatever is in season on John’s acres, produce he raises using labor-intensive organic methods. In spring, the boxes are full of lettuce, spinach and radishes; in summer, potatoes, tomatoes, green beans and zucchini; in the fall, acorn squash, turnips and bell peppers. John pays me in the currency of his produce, with apples from his orchard, with fresh eggs from his chickens. Those eggs have yolks that are a dark and rich orange color. The growing season just past was a reasonably good one. It was too rainy in the spring. Thus it was hard to plant in the muddy garden rows. The summer was good -- not too hot and just enough rain to nourish a bounty. Last year was a disaster. An extremely hot, dry spell in August cooked the tomato crop on the vines, then hard rains fell in September ruining the chance to push up a good fall crop. John was forced to end the subscription program early because of the bad year. Harvest is always an iffy thing, dependent on the timing of weather events like frosts and rains, together with a complex process of either careful soil care, in the case of an organic grower, or of massive infusions of chemical fertilizers, in the case of conventional growers. Some time spent on a farm impresses one with the fact that harvest is truly a gift. Our national holiday of Thanksgiving, of course, began as a celebration of the harvest season, that time to be thankful that the vicissitudes of weather had been overcome yet another year so that larders and storehouses are filled sufficiently to get through another winter. That harvest celebration is about gratefulness and contentment. A cultural meme we have been stuck on for some time is the “I deserve it” one, a sense of entitlement that has replaced contentment as a goal in life. “I work hard so I deserve a nice vacation.” “The pain-free dentistry you deserve.” “Pamper yourself. You deserve it.” “I’ve never had a nice car so this time I deserve a convertible sports car.” Everything that falls into the, “I deserve it” list is actually a want. How often do you hear someone say, “I deserve food and shelter?” “I deserve it” is a fairy tale that we perhaps need to outgrow. It’s the antithesis of gratefulness, a complex emotion. Gratefulness involves what the Chinese spiritual classic, the Tao Te Ching, suggests in this advice, “Embody integrity’s abundance, and you’re like the vibrant child.” In other words, if we subordinate ourselves prayerfully and contemplatively to the uncontrollable forces around us that produce both bad and good, to the wonderful richness of the world that made us, feeds us, challenges us, we live with a spiritual nimbleness and alacrity that reaps us a harvest of delight, wonder and vitality. Benedictine Br. David Steindl-Rast believes the emotion of gratefulness is the heart of prayer. “There is no closer bond than the one that gratefulness celebrates, the bond between giver and thanksgiver,” he wrote. “Everything is a gift. Grateful living is a celebration of the universal give-and-take of life, a limitless Yes to belonging. Can our world survive without gratefulness? Whatever the answer, one thing is certain: To say an unconditional Yes to the mutual belonging of all beings will make this a more joyful world. “This is the reason why Yes is my favorite synonym for God.” (Rich Heffern is an NCR staff writer. His e-mail address is rheffern@ncronline.org.)

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