The Earth and All that Is in It

Nith Valley Organics Market stall
Picture from Nith Valley Organics. The owners are members of my family. Buy their produce.

Like just about every other people that populates the planet, the vast majority of Mennonites were rural folk until a generation or two ago. And, like the rest of them, we have speedily been moving to cities and becoming urban over the last century and a bit. Nothing unusual there.

We are also, I believe, not unique in romanticizing the farm. There’s a long heritage of farm-fetishizing that owes nothing in particular to Mennonites. The English love their yeoman farmers and the Americans their frontier farmers. I expect that a lot of other peoples have a soft spot in their hearts for the old homesteads or family farms. These days, nostalgia may be the farm’s best friend.

Still, if Mennonites didn’t invent the cult of the farm idyll, we are nonetheless, card-carrying members.

Both my parents were raised on farms, moving to the city as adults. They repented their urban move for a few short years in my childhood and so I was a farm girl from the ages of 8 through 11. That was enough time for me to take on raising a small clutch of ducklings (I drowned a few, but not as many as a certain Mennonite memoirist from Pennsylvania) and experience the sensation of a sweet duckling growing into a bullying monster. I loved the cute baby animals and I loved the smell of hay. I loved playing hide and seek in the corn field.

Hiding. Yes, the farm was good for hiding. There were so many places to hide. Hiding was one of my favorite past times in those days. I wasn’t hiding from spankings or big family rows or anything else traumatic. I was hiding from farm work.

I discovered no love whatsoever for digging about in the dirt. It was plain enough to me that digging around in it meant the need to plant seeds and that planting seeds demanded the work of watering and weeding. All of this work was followed, then, by the even greater toil of harvest. Work to make more work went against all of my natural inclinations. My mother did find me once and persuade me to plant and tend a decorative gourd* patch. At the end of the season, I had a stall in the market and was allowed to pocket the earnings though my mother really deserved a cut since it was her idea and I’m sure she put in hours of labour searching me out, and then nagging me to weed, harvest and pay attention to the presentation of the market stall.

I would not have done this on my own.

I did not particularly mourn the country when my family moved back to town.  Later I chose, on my own, to move into an even larger city. I can’t say I’ve ever looked back.

But there is a certain unease among Mennonites in the city even now, after many of us have been urbanites for a generation or more. It’s not that urban Mennonites don’t like it in the city. We just feel like we shouldn’t. And we certainly shouldn’t admit it.

Imagine a rural Mennonite approaching an urban Mennonite (perhaps at a Mennocon or relief sale). The rural Menno will ask the urbanite if they like living in the city. The urban Mennonite will pause before answering, sensing that perhaps it is a trick question designed to reveal a blemish in their character.  They will surreptitiously glance about like they were in shopping for liquor in the Mennolands of the 1980s and didn’t want to be seen or overheard.

After taking these precautions, we urban Mennonites will give one of three answers:

  1. “Well, it’s not as bad as I thought it would be.” This is a good answer as it recognizes life has blessings even in the most cursed of locales.
  2. “Actually, I really do like it.” This is a risky response and is said only in a tone of disbelief as if the realization had only just then occurred to us. It comes with a look of soul searching to suggest that though we have lost our way, we now recognize it and will seek to improve.
  3. “A day doesn’t pass when I don’t miss the farm.” We use this one if we want to open a long conversation  about how we worry that our children won’t know that milk comes from cows, that farmers’ sausage is dead pig, and that God loves those who grow zucchini. We might follow that up with a lamentation, expressing our despair at trying to make a community in the city where there are just too many people.

You can guess which answer I give.

But it is harvest season in Canada and Thanksgiving weekend. As for me, I am indeed incredibly thankful that other people like farming and that I don’t have to do it. Some of them are even members of my family. And so, this is a cocktail for farmers — you won’t find it in cocktail bars in the city or the country but it’s not that hard to make with some farm-fresh ingredients (and some not so farm-fresh spirits), a shaker, a skewer and a cocktail glass or two.  It’s a cocktail with whiffs of nostalgia and an aftertaste of pretense. Enjoy.Once upon a Harvest

Once Upon a Harvest

  • 1 ounce Poire William (pear eau de vie)
  • 1/2 ounce Calvados or other apply brandy
  • 1 ounce pear nectar
  • 1/4 ounce clove-infused simple syrup (Heat equal amounts of sugar and water with a few cloves until sugar is dissolved. Strain out the cloves)
  • 1 slice of a tart harvest apple
  • 1 slice of a pear
  • 1 preserved cherry

Fill cocktail shaker half-full with ice and add cocktail ingredients. Shake vigorously and then strain into cocktail glass. Stab through the cherry, apple and pear slice with the skewer and toss them into the drink as garnish. Feed the remainder of the apple and pear to your children or other people in your acquaintanceship who prefer to eat than to drink their fruit.

*This link NSFC (Not Safe for Church)

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2 thoughts on “The Earth and All that Is in It

  1. I really enjoy following your blog and will update my bookmark! Neither I nor my parents grew up on a farm, but my grandparents did. I do enjoy digging in the dirt now and then to plant flowers, and also enjoy attending a picnic at the farm where my CSA veggies are grown–*once a year*. (No hard labor or muck…or aggressive ducks.) I’ve been a suburban medium-size college town dweller for a number of years. Closest I got to rural living was my early childhood several miles outside a tiny NE Ohio village serving as a hub for various flavors of Mennos and Amish. Which brings me to why I thought to reply–about the hiding. It was only when me and my sibs were older that it dawned on us that it was perverse to play hide-and-go-seek as little kids among the gravestones in the yard adjoining the rural Ohio church where Dad was pastor.

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