With the Harvest Festival now upon us, it seems important to consider its relevance in a world where the concept of the seasonality of food has been made rather redundant by greatly increased levels of intensive farming and global trade, examining both its biblical significance in regards to thanking God for the fruits of his creation, and in our current attitude to nature and our environment.
If one considers the 1700s as the last century before the process of industrialisation began in Britain, then prior to the Industrial Revolution over half of Britain’s working population were employed in agriculture – by 1900 this was below 10%, and it is now about 1%
Thus such a steep decline in involvement with agriculture due to industrialisation has meant that the harvest plays a far less significant role in the lives of the vast majority of people than it once did, and this decline in significance is exacerbated by global trade allowing people to purchase most fruit and vegetables at any time of the year, without the previous regard that one may have given to a certain produce’s seasonality in Britain. Now this is mainly due to highly intensive farming in which many natural habitats for endangered species are destroyed to provide farmland for crop growing, often then to feed vast herds of intensively reared and maltreated cattle, most evidently in the Amazon rainforest which has been detrimentally deforested, which in turn reduces the global environment’s ability to take in excess CO2.
This is not only highly relevant to consider in regard to the Harvest Festival, but also in the duties God sets out for us in Genesis, that man shall have “dominion over […] every living thing that moveth upon the earth”, and that he has given unto man “every herb bearing seed which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat.”. God has both given us dominion over nature, and the means to survive in providing edible fruits and vegetables, but in the modern world of intensive farming where food is plenty for many it is easy to forget to give thanks for that which he has given us. However, the sense of stewardship that the bible also conveys here must be very carefully considered – it is our duty to protect our environment and the world around us, it has not simply been given to us by God as an expendable resource. Thus I would argue the Harvest Festival has never been more relevant in reminding us of the importance of protecting the world God created and entrusted to us, considering the grievous harms of intensive farming in its consequences for the natural world, encouraging us to eat more sustainably produced organic food that helps maintain our natural environment and not destroy it, and in the greatest Christian virtue of charity, supporting those who most need our help through the kind and valuable donations of food we give at Harvest Festival.