Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Grateful for the Bountiful Harvest: A Season of Thanksgiving

As Not Seen on TV: I live in New Jersey, which is the "Garden State."

I paid a visit to Abma's Farm in Wyckoff in September, one of the many wonderful farms in our state. My soul feels much more content when I visit farms on a regular basis. This past weekend, I feasted at Demarest Farm in Hillsdale on some specials - butternut squash ravioli in alfredo sauce, string beans, and a pumpkin scone with apple cider before it soon closes for the winter season. The apple and pumpkin picking masses are now gone, and business seems so quiet compared to the packed supermarket parking lots.

At Abma's, my farm to table lunch feast of pumpkin soup, a pretzel roll and hot cider with cinnamon.

Fresh donuts from their bakery.

Fresh herbs to delight the nose and tongue. These are nature's best perfume and really are a gift. I have a little wooden pumpkin I got at a garage sale in our kitchen that says "Give Thanks" on it and a little thrifted book beside it, "A Gift of Herbs: An Illustrated Garden in Miniature" by Peg Streep.

It's hard not to feel cheered here.

It is a very cold, rainy day as I write from the comfort of my home in New Jersey. I'm thinking of minor complaints, like the temporary discomfort I'll feel in the cold while walking the dogs. But the farmers read the weather for their livelihood. As Daisy so wisely said on Downton Abbey, "No farmer's his own boss. He takes his orders from the sun and the snow and the wind and the rain."

I do not want to silently be a witness to the transformation of Thanksgiving into yet another shopping holiday. This is the season of gratitude following the harvest time. I am remembering and have a grateful heart for our local farmers who march on against the tides of big agribusiness, and all the farmers who produce food for our plates. Thank you farmers.  I loved how Laura Ingalls Wilder in The First Four Years put it despite struggling with multiple crop failures and hardships,

"It would be a fight to win out in this business of farming, but strangely she felt her spirit rising for the struggle.

The incurable optimism of the farmer who throws his seed on the ground every spring, betting it and his time against the elements, seemed inextricably to blend with the creed of her pioneer forefathers that "it is better farther on" and only instead of farther on in space, it was farther on in time, over the horizon of the years ahead instead of the far horizon of the west....

Manly was coming from the barn and he was singing:
You talk of the mines of Australia,
They've wealth in red gold, without doubt;
But, ah! there is gold in the farm, boy -
If only you'll shovel it out."

How much better it is now versus then is an age-old subject for debate, but I don't think it's better how disconnected we are from our food supply since few of us produce much (or any of it). How much are the retail shoppers thinking of where their items are produced? Is all this materialism better?

"Give us this day our daily bread." One of the few possessions salvaged from a fire during the early years of Laura and Almanzo Wilder's marriage was a plate they purchased for their first Christmas with this prayer. I don't think of it as much in the religious sense but as gratitude for the food we receive.

Let us also remember the forgotten farm animals. I don't consume meat (chicken, beef or pork), but animal by-products are in my diet and once in a very blue moon, fish. Pigs living as they should, basking in the sunshine. I'm so saddened by factory farms conditions most animals have to live in. In a passage in her 1913 novel, O Pioneers! (Part 1, The Free Land) Will Cather seemed to be giving modern generations a warning. Alexandra consults old Ivar, seen as eccentric by some but with so much wisdom, for the elders often have so much of just that to share, if we only listen.

"We have a bunch of hogs, Ivar. I wouldn't sell in the spring, when everybody advised me to, and now so many people are losing their hogs that I am frightened. What can be done?"

Ivar's little eyes began to shine. They lost their vagueness.

"You feed them swill and such stuff? Of course! And sour milk? Oh yes! And keep them in a stinking pen? I tell you, sister, the hogs of this country are put upon! They become unclean, like the hogs in the Bible. If you kept your chickens like that, what would happen? You have a little sorghum patch, maybe? Put a fence around it, and turn the hogs in. Build a shed to give them shade, a thatch on poles. Let the boys haul water to them in barrels, clean water, and plenty. Get them off the old stinking ground, and do not let them go back there until winter. Give them only grain and clean feed, such as you would give horses or cattle. Hogs do not like to be filthy...

That evening, after she had washed the supper dishes, Alexandra sat down on the kitchen doorstep, while her mother was mixing the bread. It was still a deep-breathing summer night, full of the smell of the hay fields. Sounds of laughter and splashing came up from the pasture, and when the moon rose rapidly above the bare rim of the prairie, the pond glittered like polished metal, and she could see the flash of white bodies as the boys ran about the edge or jumped into the water. Alexandra watching the shimmering pool dreamily, but eventually her eyes went to the sorghum patch south of the barn, where she was planning to make her new pig corral."

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