We might be in summer right now, but it won’t be long before birdsong will be drowned out by the noise of farm vehicles as the countryside prepares for the end of one season and the start of another.
Harvest time for farmers is a chance to set aside for the future. Crops that have been nurtured for many months are collected in and sold on, or stored for feeding livestock through the winter. Prayers go out for fine weather so that hay can be gathered on dry days.
It isn’t only the farmers who are gathering. Families of all ages will be busy on the roadsides with their plastic bags and plastic containers, picking the free fruits and berries that are ripening in the hedgerows.
All this is a reminder of the harvest festivals of our youth. Perhaps we were asked to take a tin of peas or a packet of biscuits to school to contribute to the ‘harvest fayre’ that was gathered by local schools and churches and distributed out to people who were ‘less fortunate’. While the tradition of harvesting is a time of gathering, it also became synonymous with a time of giving.
This tradition is continued in many places, as there are still many people in need of basic foodstuffs. I heard recently that the food banks that provide free food to families who live literally ‘below the breadline’ are running short. These food banks don’t just operate at harvest time – people need to eat all year round. Some of us have far too much and we can make a huge difference with a small gesture.
The thing that strikes me most about our travels over the last few years is the generosity that exists in small rural communities throughout the year. Back in April I took a walk one cold morning to explore a tiny village that had featured in the Domesday Book. There were just a handful of houses in the village and amid them stood a beautiful twelfth century church. I was tempted inside by a small handwritten notice on the church gate that said: ‘Come inside, the church is always open.’ As I entered and my eyes adjusted to the darkness I spotted an old table at the back of the church with home-made cakes, neatly wrapped, and a jar or two of preserves. My inquisitiveness drew me nearer and there, beside the goodies, lay a sheet which simply said, ‘If there are cakes or produce here, help yourself and pop any contribution you feel is suitable into the honesty box’.
Last autumn I was driving through another small village in another county and there, beside the front gate of a house, was an old wooden crate, stood on its side on a table. In front of the table were bags of apples and the inside the crate was handpainted with ‘eating apples’ on one side and ‘cooking apples’ on the other; the apples were free to passers-by. The handpainted crate made me think that this wasn’t just a ‘one off’ gesture, but a regular autumn offering.
No big deal, you may say. So, what’s in a few apples, or the odd cake or two? For me it is a big deal. It makes me hopeful that the generosity of spirit that has existed in rural communities for centuries has not been completely destroyed with the arrival of the electronic and commercial revolution. The ‘value’ of these goods is not in their price or worth, but in the pleasure that is gained from giving – whatever the season.
Have you come across freebies on your street? Share your stories…