Charity should begin at home, but should not stay there. ~ Philip Brooks

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HARVEST TIME

Phyllis McCallum-Hunter

 
Those that plant surely will reap. That statement can certainly go for many aspects of one’s life, but for me, at this point in the season, I am referring to a physical harvest. As a kid that grew up on a farm, I have always had a hand in the ‘harvest’. As a kid, I probably didn’t appreciate what I was getting a chance to do; it seemed more like work, or maybe punishment. But now, as an adult, it brings back many memories of comradery that took place between neighbours. Harvest was something that meant a busy time in, hopefully, a short period with good weather. As farmers would sometimes work together, it was always a coordinated effort of working on one farmer’s land and then moving into the next farmer’s land. I can clearly remember seeing the swathers, combines, balers, bale racks, trucks, and augers coming down the road and turning into our yard. It was at this point that my Mom would be in the heat of the kitchen, preparing filling meals for all the men that would be coming with all those implements. There could be anywhere from 6 to 10 men that needed to be fed dinner and supper. My Mom never took meals to the fields like I saw other family members do, she said that the harvesters needed to get off their machines for 20 minutes, and she was too busy to be boxing up the food and taking it to the field! I can also remember old vinegar jugs ½ filled with water and frozen to ice and then filled with water as a cooling drink. No fancy drinking containers for our harvesters! The itch of the barley dust can never be forgotten. I can remember when there were no cabs on the swathers, tractors and combines, and so one had to hope that the wind kept switching directions when out in that dust! The memory is as clear as those days many, many, many years ago that Uncle Don would come down from the combine so dusty and full of dirt that you could only see the white of his eyes. There may have been a bit of complaint of how itchy it was, but the harvesters were thankful for a dry day, and a day of being breakdown free, so that they could be reaping that crop. My job during this time was to help with the baling of the straw. I can remember being put on the tractor with the square baler and the hay rack attached, and off to the field my rack partner and me would go. I was so weak (I was just little!), that I couldn’t change gears on the tractor! I would push in the clutch and the person on the rack would have to jump off to shift gears when we were moving from place to place or needing a higher gear for the baler! Or when the baler got plugged. That was a nasty job trying to dig out all the straw that had been jammed in the baler. The cuts on one’s hands and arms from the sharp edges of the stalks brought on a new kind of sting! My Mom would laugh when we had helpers from the city, and they would be driving the tractor and I would be the one that was dragging bales from the baler and stacking them on the rack. I could handle the straw bales, as they were light but the hay bales were a different story. Maybe that is why I have sore muscles to this day! Not only was my Dad harvesting, but my Mom was too. She didn’t have any fancy machinery to help her out though. In the spring, a large garden was planted with beans, peas, corn, cucumbers, carrots, beets, onions, and tomatoes. Another plot of land was planted into potatoes. Once these plants were ready for picking, pails of each of the product would be brought to the house for canning, freezing, and pickling. Many an hour was spent snipping, shelling, cutting, and chopping all of those vegetables that had been grown. I am sure that Dad always picked the coldest fall day to dig the potatoes. Bags and bags of those were filled and loaded again on the hay rack and put in the cold storage room in the basement for use during the winter. Fruits were bought at the store, or we headed to the bush to pick saskatoons, cranberries, raspberries, and currants. Being from the farm that I grew up on, we did not have running water during my early years, and so all the water that was used in this preserving process had to be carried in from the well, and carried out. Jars and jars of preserves were found on shelves in the basement for use during the winter. Anything and everything that could be canned would be found down there; from sliced peaches, pears, and apricots to peach marmalade, currant jam, chokecherry syrup and jelly, to canned chicken and green tomato mincemeat, to relish, dilled cucumbers, and bean mustard pickle. Many years later, I continue that cycle of planting and harvesting. I am not sure if it is because I feel that I have to do it because I know how to do it, or if it’s the sense of satisfaction knowing how to plant and reap and preserve. There is nothing like the taste of your own garden produce. The work is still there, but thank goodness I don’t have to carry the water in and the water out! (I do generally save the water from washing the vegetables and fruit though and throw it on my flower bed or backyard garden). My shelves are filled with canned tomatoes, salsa, nanking cherry jelly, dilled carrots, canned beans, applesauce, and mixed pickles. My freezer holds peas, apples, strawberries, raspberries, and jams. I love being able to head downstairs to get some ingredient for a recipe. The Airdrie Agriculture Society will host “Art of the Harvest” on their land west of Airdrie on September 22. They show how grain was harvested many generations ago, using horses to plant and to reap. The grain is cut and then put into stooks and then thrashed in a threshing machine. It gives all of us a glimpse into the past and the work that it took to get a bin full of grain for the winter use and for sale. There is also a chance to get dirty and dig out of the ground your own bag full of vegetables for a minimal charge. If you have some time that day, I would encourage you to drop by. At this time of year, you can’t miss what is happening along the roadways that you travel on outside the city limits. We don’t always consider where our food comes from, as it ends up in the local grocery store, but some farmer, somewhere, has produced it. Thankfully, there are those that continue to put in great effort to plant and reap so that we all get to eat!

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