Much of the Foundation Series is designed to get you thinking about your choices and to inspire changes in your mindset. And sometimes all that is needed is a little background to start those wheels turning.
Do you know anything about harvest festivals? Ever been to one? Does your local community celebrate the harvest?
Harvest Festivals take various forms and occur at different times in different countries but all share a common thread: they mark the completion of the harvest and reward the hard work with a perfectly ripened and highly nutritious bounty.
The bounty we speak of is varied, influenced by the major crops in each area. In New Mexico the chili pepper is celebrated. The apple gets the attention in Pennsylvania. And in California’s wine country, it’s all about the grape crush.
We’ve lost the tradition in many communities though. Fall festivals are less about the harvest and more about commercial enterprise today. Many people don’t even relate these social events to the harvest.
In fact, we have long regarded Thanksgiving as a national holiday, celebrating the communal meal between the Pilgrims and Indians, but this annual tradition has deeper roots, ones that revered the connection to the land.
Wild game was abundant at the time of the first Thanksgiving, nearly 400 years ago. In fact, venison, wild turkey, fish, and waterfowl represented a greater portion of the offering than the cultivated foods like potatoes and maize.
“And God be praised we had a good increase… Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruit of our labors.”
– Edward Winslow, one of the Pilgrims in attendance at the first Thanksgiving in 1621.
What is celebrated today as a family gathering to give thanks and share stories over a meal is deeply rooted in the harvest – be it wild game or cultivated crops – and the traditions established in ancestral Europe.
I can’t think of a closer connection to the land than that. But somehow we lost our way.
That time when we went off the rails
One of the most threatening characteristics of the modern world is our diminishing connection to the land. We don’t know where our food comes from much of the time and the seasons are all but irrelevant.
It was only recently – somewhere in the last 60-70 years – that we went off the rails. Commercial food and Big Ag professed to deliver efficiency, greater yields, and year-round availability if we were willing to simply outsource our food security to them.
Don’t have time to cook? Never fear, our frozen meals can be ready in minutes. You do have a microwave, right?
Too many weeds in your garden? Spray our magic elixir on your plants and you’ll never see another weed. Of course, you’ll need to plant new ones each year because of the Terminator Gene that we’ve baked right into the seed. But you can buy new seed from us every year!
Love bananas? We’ll bring them up from Central America all year long for you!
If you ask me the commercial food promise misses the mark and the companies involved are causing more problems than they solve.
It’s time to correct our course and the easiest way to re-establish our connection to the land is through the food we eat.
Celebrate the harvest
Harvest festivals have celebrated the hard work and bounty for thousands of years. Families, landowners and their laborers, and whole communities around the world have come together year after year to celebrate the fruits of the year’s effort.
These festivals often take place around the time of the Harvest Moon (late September or early October) when the hard work has been completed and the crops put up for the winter. Communities and families come together to enjoy these crops at their peak of flavor and enjoy the company of neighbors.
If you’ve ever eaten a perfectly vine ripened tomato or a juicy pear right from the tree you know that what we buy at any other time in the local grocery store is at best a shadow of the real thing.
It’s not just the taste of the bounty that makes this a special time of year. Churches often receive baskets of local produce to feed the poor. Families trade surpluses and land owners show their appreciation for the efforts of their workers.
Harvest festivals represent community and the shared experience of working the land. Everyone participates and all benefit. Can we say that about our commercial food system?
Eat the seasons
You’ll hear us say this often, but it’s all about local. Dave lives in the desert southwest and I live in the Big Horn Mountains of northern Wyoming. The produce and wild game we have available to us differs by location.
Dave can grow an abundance of plants year round but my growing season is much more limited. Of course, antelope, turkey, and deer are like flies out here in Wyoming so I win on that mark!
For countless generations, our ancestors lived in harmony with the seasons. They cultivated what their climate would allow, migrated with the wild game herds, and managed their consumption through periods of extreme abundance and scarcity.
As we began to master cultivation skills our lives became more regionalized and ultimately the nomadic tendencies were no longer needed. We learned to grow plants in colder climates, how to preserve food for longer periods, and domesticate animals for meat production.
We reached a level of security that has allowed us to live in almost any location without the fear of starvation. But what has been the cost of that?
Consuming the fruits of our labor at their peak ripeness is as good as it gets. It’s also when those fruits and vegetables are their most nutritious. Shipping bananas from Honduras or tomatoes from Mexico to Wyoming means they must be picked green, sprayed with a chemical to inhibit premature ripening, and then shipped thousands of miles to reach my grocer. Those bananas and tomatoes will most certainly not be in their peak state or contain the nutrition that they should. And don’t forget the chemicals.
There’s another, perhaps more compelling reason to consider the seasons when making food choices.
Nutrient density differs within a single plant or animal given the time of year. For example, milk is typically more rich in beta-carotene in the summer because of the increase in the amount of grass consumed by the cows compared to their winter diets.
There is a natural order to sustainable food production. Mother Nature is willing to provide us with exactly what our bodies need for optimal health. We just need to embrace the seasons to realize that.
In the spring, leafy greens are abundant and provide that much needed cleanse and detox from the harder winter months. Dropping a few pounds is also not a bad idea.
Summer brings higher temps, more activity, and a need to stay cool and hydrated. It makes sense that berries, melons, cucumbers, and fruit are available to provide that natural sugar boost.
The fall is ushered in by crisp apples and hearty greens like kale and chard, the perfect foods to prepare our bodies for the demands ahead.
And winter arrives shortly after we’ve harvested the root vegetables and wild game packed with carbohydrates, starches, and fat to keep us warm and comfortable through the colder months.
Eating the seasons will ultimately lead you to discover the natural cravings that come with each season. You’ll become accustomed to peak flavor and begin to pass on foods that are out of season knowing that the taste will fall short of your expectation.
So next Thanksgiving maybe you’ll think about your local harvest and the work and effort that went into providing that feast. Better yet, maybe you’ll be inspired to create a Thanksgiving filled with locally harvested vegetables, dairy and meats. Get some recipes from your local growers and immerse yourself in local traditions. Reconnect to the community and the land that supports it.
Having a connection to the place you live is not just about your address and where you work and play. It’s about finding your relationship with the land, eating in season and living closer to the natural world around you. Each place is unique in the story it tells and what it can provide if we would only take a moment to listen.
The Homework Assignment
Then make your shopping list for this week trying to incorporate as many of the seasonal ingredients as you can.
You can find inspired seasonal recipes on Modern Steader as well.
About the “Foundation Series” lessons
Our Foundation Series course is part of your free membership and allows you to explore the fundamental beliefs and core concepts of homesteading in the modern world. You get two new lessons delivered to your inbox each week for a total of 21 lessons. Just like this lesson, each one contains the links to the previous lessons.
Be sure to keep an eye out for new lessons in your inbox each week!
Start with our Foundation Series overview: Introduction to the 7 Core Values of the Modern Steader
Here’s the list of previous lessons for your reference:
- 7 habits of highly successful modern steaders
- Becoming Comfortable with Discomfort
- The physical and mental challenges of the modern steader lifestyle and why it’s all worth it
- Why Connected Self-Reliance?
- 25 evaluation benchmarks for establishing your Self-Reliance Baseline
- Learning Self-Reliance: 3 ways to change your world view
- Drawing the line between Want and Need
- Pursuing a Different Kind of Knowledge
- The Knowledge Vault for Modern Steaders
- Lost Inheritance: How we are running the risk of losing some craft skills forever
- 7 sustainable practices your Grandma never taught you
- Hobbies to Homesteading: Why craft skills are essential for a steader
- Rediscovering the Natural World