Address given at Worcestershire County Harvest Festival6 Nov 2018
Given by Howard Petch CBE, formerly principal of Bishop Burton College, chair of trustees of Germinate, Chief Executive of Landex and vice-chair of the Farming Community Network. Worcester Cathedral, 7 October 2018.
France: English tourist stopped at a café in a small remote French village and ordered a couple of scrambled eggs for lunch. Price exorbitant—Eggs in short supply? Non monsieur eggs plentiful—Tourists in short supply
Reminder of laws of supply demand and that:
1.Viewing the Harvest as consumers we have abundant supply—as we reflect on the spectacular and diverse display of food that greets us as we walk in to the supermarket/farm shop—the variety, the colour, the smells, the freshness, plentiful supply at reasonable prices—is there a risk that you/me/we may take for granted.
2. If, however we view this year’s harvest through the eyes of farmers/growers; --what is their verdict? —many here know better than me-the weather/elements have presented extreme challenges over recent months---guess arable farmer better than might have expected —yields variable but reasonable, quality good and price ok. Livestock farmer different story-not enough forage (or straw) serious risks of winter shortfalls---perhaps with the farmer--- so much less risk of taking anything for granted.
I would suggest that Harvest Thanksgiving is a celebration of 2 things:
First is the celebration of God’s Creation, it’s wonders, splendour and diversity and our total dependence upon it.
Second the celebration of human skill & endeavour, working with the order of creation to bring forth abundance to meet our material needs.
In terms of the natural world, our intricate ecosystems—and whether with the atheist we believe it all to be the consequence of chance or we believe in a loving creator God—we can surely all agree that we are totally dependant upon it for our continued existence—" Human vanity can best be served by a reminder that whatever our accomplishments, our scientific endeavour, our levels of sophistication or artistic pretension we owe our very existence to a 6” layer of top soil and the fact that it rains” —Our materialistic world needs reminding of that.
But I am learning –albeit too slowly that a true sense of gratitude needs to be nurtured and fostered—it is so easily quashed in times of plenty--Is it just me or do we sense a prevailing mood of dissatisfaction, is one commentator right when she says negativity has become a national characteristic. When did we last read an article or hear a broadcast where gratitude was the centre piece.
War memorial in Canada----Inspired by gratitude—The implication being not only should we be thankful, but we should be inspired to the extent that it impacts how we live our lives. Are we truly inspired through our gratitude for Creation and the daily bounty that is ours---inspired to harness that creation for the benefit of all, to nurture, to protect and to bequeath.
Cicero “A thankful heart is not only the greatest virtue but the parent of all other virtues”
So, Harvest Thanksgiving is about acknowledging and honouring the creator, but also the extent to which that same Creator works with us in a divine human partnership.
Scripture makes it clear that it is not ordained that we work alone and indeed that neither does God. This principle is vividly portrayed in the well-known story of the loaves and fishes.
In that familiar story:
Who is to feed the crowd? —the disciples—Jesus doesn’t say I’ll feed them, but you feed them.
Whose food is used? The disciples--- Jesus doesn’t make fish and bread fall from the sky but takes and uses what they have.
Who is to arrange the people, distribute the food and clean up afterwards-the disciples.
But who does the miracle? Jesus does; He directs the whole event, blesses the bread and fish and provides the endless supply.
The reality is that we don’t work alone but in a divine-human partnership—His way of working is to take the little we have use it and bless it.
Harvest Thanksgiving should be an acknowledgement of proverbial loaves and fishes, expressed in the huge collective (God given) talent, husbandry skills, wisdom, ingenuity, innovation, time and energy of all who are involved in the food chain from field to plate, and the ongoing miracle of new growth and new fruits.
The hard evidence of those fruits is captured in a headline last week UEA—Why the UK Has Such Cheap Food?
Highlighted that we in UK spend the lowest percentage of our income on food consumed (8.2%) in the home of any country in world except US & Singapore a fact that surprises many (and perhaps an irony given the demand on food banks) Prompted comment from a dairy farmer--“I am not sure how much cheaper food has to get before it becomes completely unsustainable to produce”.
When we look globally and historically the scale of the abundance is surely mind blowing— a product of that divine human partnership
The estimated population of the world at the time Jesus walked in Galilee was over 250 million people—it is now over 7.6 billion
It took 1800 years to reach 1 billion and another 120 years to reach 2 billion.
In my life span a little over 3 score years and 10 it has tripled.
It is now over 7.65 billion.
Assuming this service takes 1 hour it will have grown by 10K---ongoing growth and clear majority take all for granted. We grow 17% more food per person per day than 30 years ago even though twice as many people.
All this even though the planet on which we live is broadly the same size, indeed in terms of its food producing capacity it is significantly smaller but miraculously the world continues to grow enough food to feed these people—over my lifetime food production has more than kept pace with population growth.
Environmentally the green revolution of past decades that generated this increase has incorporated damage and mistakes in the way technology was and is used. Whilst addressing those mistakes we must also recognize the huge achievements in terms of human life
The next and indeed the imminent green revolution now emerging must be ecologically sound as we continue to find a balance in ensuring food for a growing population whilst not abusing the eco-systems on which we depend.
We are on the cusp of that second green revolution:
- Water & soil sensors, Tracking of weather, Satellite imaging, Radio Frequency Identification, Vertical Farming, (hydroponics) Minichromosal technology, Mechatronics & automation---collectively mind blowing---basis for optimism.
- Harper Adams University—1 Ha wheat without humans entering the field either on foot or on tractor—40 Ha.
- More speculative article---It’s the year 2038. The word “flavour” has fallen into disuse. Sugar is the new cigarettes, and we have managed to replace salt with healthy plants. We live in a society in which we eat fruit grown using genetics. We drink synthetic wine, scramble eggs that do not come from chickens, grill meat that was not taken from animals, and roast fish that never saw the sea.
Of course, it is very clear that we have been so much better at growing enough food than we have been in terms of fair distribution and alleviation of poverty or even in terms of ensuring justice for all involved within the food chain itself. Given our human sinfulness our contribution to the divine/human partnership has been marred by collective greed and apathy resulting in such disparity and deprivation.
Whilst we make progress it is not fast enough, and we still have almost 1 billion people suffering from hunger and (incidentally) another billion obese. More than a food production issue the need here is to address the causes of poverty and deprivation.
- So, in terms of a philosophy for the young farmers of tomorrow who will need technical skills, creativity, and wisdom like no generation before I can offer none better than I first heard from my father almost 100 years ago.
- Live as if you are going to die tomorrow and farm as if you are going to farm for ever.
- This adage reflects his and now my own belief that there is a spiritual side to life that should not be neglected—Jesus-- Man does not live by bread alone, a truth I urge you to grasp if you have not already done so. A truth that our world needs now more than ever before. It also reflects my father’s endeavour to leave the farm in better heart than he found it.
This harvest despite all our worries and anxieties, individual and corporate, despite the reality of an increasingly scary world –and it really is scary we still so much to the thankful for.
For the wonder of creation and its bounty; for the fruits of the divine human partnership and all it’s spectacular provision but also for the truth and assurance of His word with its eternal security.
When you tickle the earth with a hoe it produces a harvest—it is God who provides the earth—it is we who do the tickling. This Harvest may we be truly inspired by gratitude.