Being one of those people who like to know where my food comes from, I am trying to grow as much of it as I can. Either that or trek across the moors to the Fadmoor farm shop, where the organic veggies are amazing and carrots taste like nothing I have ever eaten before.
It is a wonderful thing to be able to see where your food is grown. Food bought from the farm gate is a real treat. Potatoes are covered in mud and the carrots are wonky, but they taste amazing. This is far better than wandering down the supermarket aisle looking at out of season fruits wrapped in suffocating plastic, most of which have got more air miles than Meghan Markle.
Sadly, it is disappointing to know that a growing number of young people do not know where the food they eat comes from. A survey of children aged five to 16 revealed that many had misconceptions about how food was produced. Some believed that fish fingers contained chicken and others thought that cheese came from a plant. Many had never been on a farm and didn’t know that 60 per cent of our food (70 per cent in 1988) is produced by British farmers. Those women and men who put eggs on our table and milk in our tea should be celebrated.
There used to be a time when harvest festivals played an important part in community life. Growing up on a council estate, I always knew when it was harvest, as the school hall would be decked out with straw bales and we would all be told to bring in some item of food for the local elderly people.
We sang songs about ploughing fields and scattering seeds and, even though I had never seen a cow, I felt connected to the land and the seasons of the year. Harvest was a metaphor for abundance and nicking apples from back gardens.
As a priest, the harvest festival was a highlight of the year. It was a time to invite locals into church to give thanks for those people who provided for us. It went deeper than being a thing of faith. Harvest festivals rooted us into the turning of the year. Harvest would always lead to Christmas and then to spring. With the decline of church attendance, there isn’t the opportunity for ordinary people to give thanks for the food we eat. A mechanism and secular liturgy has to be developed for thanksgiving outside of a religious setting.
In our throw-away, social media-obsessed society, many people do not give a second thought to where their food comes from and how it was grown. They are quite happy to take a picture of their food and put it on Facebook, but I doubt many will be bothered about the person who grew it and the care they took.
British farmers have to abide to very high standards of animal husbandry. After Brexit, these standards will get even higher. The vegetables they produce are some of the best in the world and we eat them without a second thought. On the whole, animals are kept in good conditions and treated humanely. That does not come cheaply.
As a society, there is a real need to take a step back, stop and celebrate the food on our plates. We have to have some form of community harvest celebration. What would be wrong in having a National Farmers’ Day at the time of the September Harvest Moon?
Today is Back British Farming Day which provides an important focus on what farmers do, but it is not enough. Surely, would it not be possible to have a late Bank Holiday to celebrate farming and the harvest? After all, without British farmers, we wouldn’t eat.
Farmers play a crucial role in feeding the nation and taking care of the countryside. Farming provides jobs for up to four million people and contributes over £120bn to the economy. In these uncertain political times, farmers press on with the harvest to keep this country going. That is something that should be applauded and recognised.
Harvest festivals are much more than a Christian celebration. They go back into the mists of time to our Pagan past. In a world of apps and gadgets, social media and Netflix, we need to reconnect with the Earth and the wonder of Mother Nature.
We cannot allow a growing apathy towards food production fool our children into thinking cheese comes from a plant. Farming is a backbone industry in Yorkshire and has to be honoured and respected. At this time of year, it is only right to give thanks for the harvest and make sure that the food we buy is produced by British farmers.
GP Taylor is a writer and broadcaster from North Yorkshire. He lives in Whitby.