Celebrating Harvest

AS we approach the  Harvest season the Door explores the importance of food production and the rural church in the UK and beyond.

The Revd John Townend knows that Harvest is an important time for rural England. With the six parishes in the West Downland Benefice, where he is the Rector, and the three schools in his area, he and his Associate Priest, the Revd Mary Harwood will be involved in 11 Harvest Festival services this autumn. Cows

He is also one of the Diocese’s team of rural officers and has been Honorary Chaplain of the Newbury and District Agricultural Society since 2004. This sees him arranging a Rogation service every year, and continuing to be heavily involved in the Royal County of Berkshire Show including their Harvest Festival in the main arena at the showground.

Farmers are reliant on the weather if they are growing crops and John is aware that this has been up and down his year. “In the first nine days of August there was not a drop of rain and the rest of the month was variable. The farmers were getting fed up and during September they were making the most of the dry days for harvesting.”

His diocesan role, working with our Diocesan Rural Officer, the Revd Canon Glyn Evans, sees him involved in Plough Wednesday every January. He remembers one of the years it was held in Berkshire. “We were on the Lambourn Downs on a bitterly cold January morning with the race horse trainer Clive Cox. There were about 40 of us and it was minus five, watching the horses going for their gallop. That was a fantastic day; it was wonderful to see an enormous racehorse nuzzling Bishop Stephen’s ear! Very few people get to see the work of racing stables, but it is such a vital part of rural life in West Berkshire and brings a huge amount of employment to our area. Clive is one of the better known trainers in the country and was keen that we should see how it works. A lot of people question whether the church should be involved in racing because it involves gambling but it’s a very important part of rural life.”
From the horses the gathered people visited the Sheepdrove Organic Farm. “We had lunch there and we spent the afternoon warming up,” says John, who knows that there is a real difference between rural and urban ministry. “A lot of people simply don’t think about where their food comes from or realise that farmers have a pretty rough time. I think it’s essential for the Church to be involved with agricultural life. Agriculture is a vital part of our lives and shapes the countryside we know and love. If it wasn’t for the farmers the countryside would be a very different place.”

John has walked all 85 miles of the Ridgeway and is aware that in the past farming has led to deforestation and the loss of habitat. “But farmers are really conscious of that though, and doing what they can to preserve wildlife and restore much of what was lost,” he says. Some resourceful farmers are diversifying into areas that can help save the planet. One farm in Berkshire visited on last year’s Plough Wednesday talks of its livestock in terms of billions rather than dozens. There they are developing friendly bacteria for, among other uses, waterless urinals, each one saving up to 100,000 litres of water per year.

That day began at another local enterprise, the Saddleback Farm Shop, which includes a café and a range of produce including local venison at the right time of year, and beef produced on the family farm in Brightwalton.
“I know the butcher who joined us on the day, he is a very funny man, but is also very serious about producing the best meat in Berkshire. People were fascinated to see how the beef is produced and his butchery demonstration showed how every part of the deer is used to provide venison. Very little is wasted.”

As well as the rural officer work John takes his work as Rector of the West Downland Benefice very seriously, and enjoys visiting the schools on his patch. “I am a Governor at two schools and our associate priest is the chair of Governors at the other which has two sites,” he says. “We have a relatively small population but we see about 300 children each week during term time.” John was speaking after doing an assembly at one school, explaining the importance of creation and care for the world that God has given us.

Lindengate’s first harvest

Tomatoes grow ready for Lindengate's first harvest.

Tomatoes grow ready for Lindengate’s first harvest.

A happy papier mache bumble bee hangs in the craft centre at  Lindengate.

A happy papier mache bumble bee hangs in the craft centre at Lindengate.

pumpkin

Bishop Alan with Charlie Powell and Sian Chattle on the flourishing pumpkin patch.

JUST one year ago the Lindengate site, next to the busy World’s End garden centre in Wendover, was an expanse of wasteland.Now it’s a thriving charity where people with mental health needs are learning horticultural skills to help them with recovery. The site boasts a vegetable patch, a craft centre, garden tables and a mixture of different types of flowers and vegetables are growing. The Bishop of Buckingham, the Rt Revd Alan Wilson,  held a charity fundraiser in 2014 to help Lindengate’s founders, Sian Chattle and Charlie Powell, get the project off the ground in 2014. (For first story from the Door click here.  Sian and Charlie came up with the idea for the project after meeting at St Mary’s Church, Wendover. Last month Bishop Alan re-visited the five-acre site to see how it is developing.

A video of Bishop Alan, Charlie and Sian talking about the project can be watched here:

 

Planting the seeds of survival in Mali

June 2014: Tomey Banou, 50, stands in front of her granary, proudly presenting the shallots she has grown in the women’s market garden in her village. A few years ago the only way Tomey could make money was to chop down trees and sell wood – exacerbating Mali’s desertification problem. Her husband made the decisions about what to grow in their field and when to work. Now she is part of a women’s association and our partner APH negotiated for them to be given good land for a market garden. Last year she saved 50,000 CFA (approx. £60) for the first time in her life, thanks to being able to grow and sell her crops for the first time, and to a small loan from the women’s association which allowed her to set up a small business. When two of her grandchildren got malaria she used her savings to buy medicine for them and they survived. Women have greater status in the community because they are now helping to feed the village through their market garden.

June 2014: Tomey Banou, 50, stands in front of her granary, proudly presenting the shallots she has grown in the women’s market garden in her village. A few years ago the only way Tomey could make money was to chop down trees and sell wood – exacerbating Mali’s desertification problem. Her husband made the decisions about what to grow in their field and when to work. Now she is part of a women’s association and our partner APH negotiated for them to be given good land for a market garden. Last year she saved 50,000 CFA (approx. £60) for the first time in her life, thanks to being able to grow and sell her crops for the first time, and to a small loan from the women’s association which allowed her to set up a small business. When two of her grandchildren got malaria she used her savings to buy medicine for them and they survived. Women have greater status in the community because they are now helping to feed the village through their market garden.

THIS harvest as churches celebrate God’s bountiful creation, Christian Aid is urging Christians to stand alongside women in Mali. They need our support to grow plentiful food to last through the leaner seasons.
The people of the Dogon Plateau region of Mali – one of the driest places on earth ­­ – are constantly at the mercy of the weather. They used to face drought once in a decade, but within the past few years the rains have been far less regular and hunger has become an annual concern.

Opportunities to plant crops during the decreasing rainy season have become fewer as the ground gets drier and drier. The wind carries sand that further erodes the land and destroys crops and the scorching heat means 80 per cent of the rain that does fall evaporates before it can penetrate the soil. A third of Malian children under two are also chronically malnourished – something that’s almost impossible to imagine in the UK. In many communities, women like Tomey (pictured right) have struggled to grow enough food to feed their families. That’s why Christian Aid partner Action for Human Promotion (APH) is providing seeds, tools and training to help women in Tomey’s community to start market gardens. Unlike traditional crops, these gardens are irrigated and do not rely on rain, instead using water from traditional wells that the community dig with guidance from APH. Tomey is now growing and selling vegetables and has been able to save money for the first time in her life and provide for her family.

A Christian Aid spokesman said: “As we celebrate God’s good gifts this harvest and reflect on how fortunate we are to have such a wealth of food, let us remember APH’s work, Tomey’s community and their struggle to protect this complex and fragile creation. This harvest, we are giving families the strength not just to survive, but to thrive. Thank you so much for all you can give.”
For more information about Tomey and her community visit the Christian Aid website. There you can find worship and prayer resources which can be adapted for services and small groups. Visit www.christianaid.org.uk/getinvolved/harvest/ for details.

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