Secondary: Current Assemblies
Harvest in the twenty-first century
Suitable for Whole School
To encourage students’ appreciation of the resources available to them (SEAL theme: Self-awareness).
Preparation and materials
You will need a leader and two readers.
- Leader Traditionally, this has been the time of year for celebrating the harvest.
Reader 1 In the UK, for centuries, churches have been decorated at this time of year, traditionally with samples of produce from the local area that had been grown, ripened and gathered in. There were sheaves of wheat and barley, baskets of apples, pears, carrots and beans, vases of colourful flowers and sacks of nuts. Following a thanksgiving service there would be a harvest supper with pies and cheeses, roasts and fresh vegetables.
Reader 2 Similarly, in the wine-growing areas of France, the grapes would be harvested by thousands of local and itinerant workers and the warm freshly pressed grape juice stored in the huge vats in every village and town. The air would become heavy with the sweet aroma of freshly pressed grapes. After a hard day’s work, harvesting the grapes – vendange in French – the pickers would share a traditional celebratory vendange meal, prepared by the vineyard owners to thank them for their hard work. There would be pâté, soup, salad, fish, meat, cheese, pastries and fruit desserts, all washed down with freshly pressed grape juice, warm from the vines, and glasses of wine from the previous year’s vintage.
- Leader I’m feeling hungry and thirsty already! I suspect, however, I’m describing something that’s outside the experience of most of you. The harvest is still celebrated here and in France, but it used to be more important than it is today because the food we ate then was seasonal and much more of it was grown locally, for the local community. It was important to gather in the crops efficiently before the weather turned colder and wetter and store them carefully so that they would last through the winter, as there were no freezers or processed foods.
Today, we can eat what we want when we want, as long as we’re willing to pay the price in terms of the food miles – that is, the cost of transporting strawberries from Israel, oranges from South Africa or kiwi fruit from wherever they come from. There is still a main harvest time in the UK for cereals and some other crops, but we can simply pop down to the supermarket any day of the week, at any time of year, for pretty much anything we might want to eat.
I believe that something has been lost as a result of this change. When harvesting took place during a brief period at the end of summer, beginning of autumn, it was possible to breathe a great sigh of relief once the job had been done. It was strenuous but successful, so a party was called for. The harvest suppers and vendange meals were celebrations of an important achievement. They were full of gratitude – for the help given by the workers, the quality of the crop, for a job well done.
For many people there was an additional dimension. There was gratitude to God for the seasons having been fruitful once again. The rain had watered, the sun had ripened and the harvest was God’s gift to humanity.
Time for reflection
Leader When everything is available to us, all the time, there’s a temptation to take what we have for granted. When strawberries can be eaten in February, then we’re less likely to appreciate or even notice particularly the first ones grown during our own season in July. When we can peel a satsuma in August, we lose the excitement our grandparents knew of finding this treasure in their Christmas stockings. We have grown to expect, if not to demand, these things all the time. We’ve lost our sense of gratitude for them and simply take them for granted.
This loss of gratitude can be seen in many other aspects of life, too. We don’t often show our gratitude for the huge range of media choices we have, all the clothes we can choose from, the sports and leisure facilities we have. What about showing gratitude for friends and family, for other special people? How often do we stop to consider all that we have? Maybe we should have a series of different thanksgivings, a number of occasions on which we express our gratitude.
There’s also the matter of extending our gratitude even further than this. If we have all we need, then there’s the opportunity to share what we have with others. The produce used to decorate the churches in a traditional harvest festival was either given away to those who were not so well off or auctioned, with the proceeds given to charity, at home or abroad. Maybe harvest gratitude today, in all its possible forms, could still give rise to harvest generosity.
Thank you for everything and everyone good in my life.
May I never take them for granted.
As I appreciate them, may I also be willing to share generously with others.
‘What a wonderful world’ by Eva Cassidy and Katie Melua (among others)