Recently my uncle retired from his life long career as a farmer. We were invited to, this, his last wheat harvest. My baby boys sat in the cab of a combine and combed the fields. They watched as the heads of wheat became tiny grains. They ran around and gathered up piles that missed the truck – now on its way to the elevator. For the first time in all the years they’ve been invited, did they realize the connection between the wheat in the field and the food on their plates. For the first time they saw their uncle and his work as part of a bigger picture. They were curious about how to make wheat into flour and flour into bread. They asked him all the questions. I wondered about spilled wheat and missed opportunity costs and the last days of a career. My uncle said spilled wheat is not worth worrying about. It made me think long and hard about the harvest and our own lives.
The boys and I spent hours grinding grain into wheat flour. We baked bread. All on the back of a man who spent a lifetime praying for dry hot sun and cursing the hail. The boys attention became lackluster when the grinding got rough. They didn’t make it through hours, years, a lifetime from farm to table. Their survival is not hinged on yields. They could take what they learned from him in the field and put it in their back pockets for later. Spending money for days when they will stop to contemplate their own life’s work. We gathered many hours, together, working out how to make wheat into bread. The process was more complex than we imagined. We started with limited information and gained insight along the way. The loaf didn’t turn out like we planned. I can’t help but think harvest means more than the brick of pulverized wheat on my kitchen counter.
Harvest is a season. There are endings and new beginnings. My uncle brought an abundance to the table over the years. Not just cultivated crops, but knowledge passed like seeds from one generation to the next. In that way, the harvest is not ours alone but once our father’s and someday our son’s. Farming isn’t merely yields and prices, but longevity. He put time into sustaining the land and his family. Every harvest culminating in both successes and failures. Every new season a chance to try things differently, to test out advice from farmers long gone, or to begin something new. As we drove away from the field, he was looking towards the next season. A harvest ripe with possibility.