Wednesday, 3 August 2011

The Gardener's Calendar - August 1863

Another extract below from Whitnash Parish Magazine, in 1863, with the section that begins August, and the gardening tasks.

A personal anecdote first - when I was growing up, there used to be more fields growing out-doors tomatoes, and my Great-Aunt Edie, who was retired, used to go for walks along the lanes past the fields. Sometimes after the crops had been harvested, the poorer crop or damaged tomatoes would be put in small heaps at the side of the field, before being taken away and dumped. Poorer people like my Aunt could supplement their income by taking some of those, which could still make a tasty soup.

The Whitnash account reminds me of this because it mentions that the wife and children of the labourer (who would certainly have been poor) " have the opportunity of following in the track of the reaper, and gleaning the straggling spikes of corn which he neglects to bundle in the sheaves."

This practice of leaving lesser parts of the crop for needy people has a long and ancient tradition, and it goes under the name of gleaning. The book of Deuteronomy command farmers as follows:

When you reap your harvest in your field and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it; it shall be left for the alien, the orphan, and the widow, so that the LORD your God may bless you in all your undertakings. ( Deuteronomy 24:19)

And at the time when Whitnash magazine was being written, there were places where this was a legal right:

In nineteenth century England, gleaning was a legal right for cottagers. In a small village the sexton would often ring a church bell at eight o'clock in the morning and again at seven in the evening to tell the gleaners when to begin and end work (1)

With the demise of gleaning, one major area of food waste today is in farmers' fields, where crops that don't meet top-grade quality are left to rot or be plowed under. But gleaning is making a comeback, particularly in America, where there is a Gleaning Network that has been set up:

Gleaning is the traditional Biblical practice of gathering crops that would otherwise be left in the fields to rot, or be plowed under after harvest. The Gleaning Network coordinates volunteers, growers, and distribution agencies to salvage this food for the needy. Tens of thousands of volunteers from churches, synagogues, scout troops, senior citizen groups, and other organizations participate each year in Society of St. Andrew gleaning activities. Each year, tens of millions of pounds of produce are salvaged and given to the poor at no cost to them.

Gleaners are people of all ages and income levels who want to give of themselves. Within 48 hours of picking the produce, hungry Americans are usually eating the gleaned food. Each year, some 30,000 people glean with us - to pick up over 15 million pounds of fresh, nutritious food for their hungry neighbors.

The Gleaning Network is an extremely successful and cost effective program because it is volunteer-driven and biblically-based. (2)

Now it might be argued that if these crops, which otherwise would go to waste, enter the market place, they will take away from the market share of the farmers. But this is for people who are struggling to make ends meet, who otherwise would take the cheaper pre-processed food that is available (and massively less healthy) rather than this much healthier alternative. In the mantra of today, it is timely and targeted, and temporary - it need continue only while there are people who need the food (although that may be a long time).

Can we afford to live in a throw-away society any more? And the frightening statistics suggest the issue is getting worse, not better:

Food gets left in the field for all kinds of reasons. Two big ones are that mechanical harvesting misses a lot - and sometimes the crops aren't pretty enough for supermarket shelves. "The statistics are that 96 billion pounds of food are left - this is pre-consumer food - goes to waste in this country," says Linda Tozer of the Society of St. Andrew, an organization that coordinates farmers around the Southeast and out West. And that food-waste estimate, from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is going up, not down. (2)

And the gleaning network is taking some of this food that would not make it to market:

"What we are trying to do is build a network that will take food that would not make it to market for a variety of reasons," Tozer says, "and get it to agencies that are feeding the hungry." (2)

It may work at very short notice - it's hard to plan for gleaning. The farmer may have just a few days between when he has decided that he has sold all he can, and when the produce goes bad.

On short notice, the Society of St. Andrew gathered a preacher, a Girl Scout troop and a few neighbors, like Mary Beth Sanders. "I just got an e-mail, some farmer friends passing around word of this activity," she says...Volunteers pack the rescued rations in a church van and a pickup truck, bound for a food pantry and the sheriff's office. (2)

Perhaps it is time that we reconsidered the values of gleaning.

The Gardener's Calendar - August 1863

The beginning of this month usually sees the beginning of the harvest in our parts. In the present year we shall have already begun at this date, what we trust, by God's blessing, will prove a more than productive harvest, crowning the labours of the husbandman with the golden riches of the farm.

It is a beautiful sight, that of a wheat-field ready for the sickle, while it moves at every breath of the warm wind, and rises and falls like the billows of a sun-lighted sea, the heavy grain dipping and mounting again in long even rows, now dark in the shadow, now glittering in the sunlight-while the soft rustling sound that never ceases, reminds its of the Psalmist's description of the valleys which "do shout for joy, they also sing, because they are covered over with corn." The harvest month is a joyful month for the, poor, on many accounts : the labourer gets a higher wage for his labour, and at the same time his wife and children have the opportunity of following in the track of the reaper, and gleaning the straggling spikes of corn which he neglects to bundle in the sheaves.

THE GARDEN.-Keep the soil loose among the growing crops; finish the planting out of broccoli and winter greens, attend to weeding, hoeing, and earthing up. Sow prickly spinach for spring crop, and red cabbage. In the beginning of the month sow main crop of cabbage, and about the middle sow cauliflower. Sow endive, brown, Dutch, and Bath cos lettuce to stand the winter. Take up early potatoes, and when dry, store them away. Gather ripe seeds in dry weather. Turnips may still be sown, if the early crops have failed. Take cuttings of scarlet geraniums, verbenas, heliotropes, &c. ; the former will strike readily in an open sunny border, the latter in silver-sand under a hand-glass.

Prick out Brompton stocks and wallflowers. Chrysanthemums for in-door decoration which were plunged in May, should be kept well watered ; they may now be thinned, if too bushy. Prepare ground by trenching and manuring for strawberries, which should be planted as speedily as is convenient.


Leaf after leaf in Nature's book
Time's stealthy hand turns over,
 And still on every leaf we look
New beauty to discover.
Turn down the page where blithe young Spring
Came dancing forth to greet us;
As fair a form doth Autumn bring
In golden robe to meet us.
The virgin pink and green are fled;
But mellower tints, succeeding,
A glory o'er the garden shed,
No spring-time graces needing.
For Nature is a painter wise,
Not all her colours spending;
Rich hues she keeps for August skies,
All shades of glory blending.'
And he who seeks a nosegay now,
More gorgeous blooms may gather
Then Spring's bright promise e'er could show,
Or June's delicious weather.
Bathed in the golden light of noon
Their dazzling hues are steeping,
But lovelier 'neath the harvest moon
I see them sweetly sleeping.
O Nature ! night and day alike
With they clear praise are ringing;
In unison my voice would strife,
And bless thee in my singing.

1 comment:

alane said...

Lovely piece of writing. When I was a child in the tiny town of Cecilton, Maryland the Green Giant corporation had an asparagus farm just outside town and after the migrant workers had picked the fields and gone away my mother gleaned a bushel or so for us. I still crave that creamy soup and roasted asparagus in Spring. There are still some places by the roadside where it can be found wild. We also gathered mustard greens, berries and fiddlehead ferns. My friends think I'm crazy when I go off foraging for "weeds".