We have our Harvest Festival on Sunday 20th September when we, once again, recognise how fragile our existence is and thank God that this year there’s been a harvest, albeit less than some of the bumper years we’ve had recently. The floods earlier in the year made sowing late and the six weeks of little rain in March and April, didn’t encourage growth - though the sun every day did make lockdown easier!
Two weeks ago, I dog-walked with my friend Catherine, around some of her large farm in Shropshire. This is a yearly event so I’m used to seeing her farm in August. I noted some differences this year. Firstly, the strips next to the hedgerows around the arable land were wider. Then the barley, almost ready for harvesting, had lots of ‘weed’ in it and also the hedgerows themselves were ‘bushy-er’. I asked about these and Catherine told me about how they have made a conscious effort to be better managers of the land. They are using less pesticide and herbicide - hence the weeds in the barley; they only trim the sides of the hedges alternate years and have given a wider margin to encourage more wildlife.
Catherine took me to some land, she admitted this field isn’t some of their most fertile, which they have ‘wilded’ - they have planted oak trees and let what I call weeds grow. I thought it looked ‘a mess’. Catherine’s family have tidy fields and good soil so this ‘mess’ looked out of character but I could see how it might support birds and mammals. She also told me they now have more spring planting so they can leave the stubble over winter for the birds and animals.
As Christian farmers, these decisions have been taken deliberately and a result of their faith; they are wanting to be good managers of the farm for both themselves and for the wildlife they share it with. Catherine explained they are still experimenting with using less herbicide and pesticide to see how they can balance getting not the biggest crop but a good crop which is kinder to the environment.
I wondered if being Christian affects the decisions we make in our work. Can you tell the difference between a good plumber of no faith and a good plumber who is a Christian? I think there must be; although a casual observer may not notice the difference. We are called to be good stewards of what we’ve been given. We realise what we do, the decisions we make, affects the environment.
Driving back through the lanes towards the M54, I saw many fields of wheat and barley. I didn’t see many weeds so I wonder what the local farmers think of the decisions Catherine’s family are making. Yes, they are making less money, you can’t have more barley if there’s weed. I’m sure this wasn’t an easy decisions to make especially in a year when the weather hasn’t been on their side. As I listened to Catherine’s explanation I thought thank you Lord for Christians who care. What this farm is doing challenged me about the decisions I make in my job. And being a ‘good example’ is part of our calling as Christians.
Happy Harvesting - if you still are.
Blessings - Jan
- Revd. Jan Ashton
Vicar of Hightown, Liverpool