I knew my little garden was dry and the grass looking burnt, but whilst taking an evening walk with my husband in July, it was sad to see the grazing was in a similar state, and the wheat in the fields behind the church already looking ripe. I wasn’t overly surprised to find it was being harvested the night before we went on holiday.
Even if the West Country temperatures were a little lower, in and around Exmoor where we stayed the story was the same. One point of beauty and excitement was to find a farm with old fashioned sheaves and stooks of corn which we later discovered were for thatching. But the fields were dry, animals were being fed what should be winter rations, and the harvest, despite low yields after such a late spring, was coming in early. Rivers, streams and bogs were drying up too; we walked up on the moor to the source of the Exe, and there was barely any moisture at the spring-head, and thus, few dragonflies.
Any of us who love the countryside or our gardens will be only too well aware that this year many plants have struggled. Some of us may have watered regularly to get a crop or keep plants flowering, but in many farming contexts that’s just not practicable, nor is it affordable. The countryside may look idyllic to the holiday-maker, but farming involves long hours in all weather conditions, and for very small financial margins; not only are yields down, but profits too.
With the Village Show on 2nd September, and plans well ahead for our first ever Harvest Celebration in the covered riding school at Rycroft Stables on 7th October (thanks to Bill Hundley), what we have and can harvest is at the forefront of many people’s thoughts. Hopefully there is much to give thanks to God for, particularly in a community of gardeners and horse-riders, where leisure and pleasure often combine positively, and the hard work involved is well rewarded.
However, we will also be praying for those whose hard work and efforts to make a livelihood for their families and rural communities takes a toll on their physical and mental health. Farming produces high rates of medical issues on both those health fronts. Yet future uncertainties, both political and environmental, mean we could become more dependent on locally produced produce than at any time in recent history.
As clergy we’re only too happy to come alongside anyone in need and will provide a listening ear and point people at sources of assistance we are aware of. But if you know of or meet a farmer or farm-worker in any agricultural context who needs support, there are several charities that can help, including the Farming Community Network, Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution, and Forage Aid which operates to help those livestock farmers affected by the extremes of weather we increasingly suffer. We will be supporting one of these at our Harvest Celebrations.
Whether you ever, never, occasionally or often come and worship with us, do join in our Harvest Celebrations and prayers on Sun 7th October at 10.30am at Rycroft Stables. Please bring a chair and help us give thanks to God for the benefits of the harvest we have received this year, and pray for those whose hard work puts food on our tables, and brings beauty to our countryside.