Curate’s Letter: October

“We plough the fields and scatter the good seed on the ground…”

Words that most of us are acquainted with and a good harvest hymn. With the traditional tattie holidays just around the corner, we find that we have come to a point of year where the harvest is being brought in. On Sunday, just gone, I found myself driving ever so slowly behind a large combine harvester on the way to celebrate Harvest Festival at St John’s in Wick. It allowed some much-needed time to take a good look at the fields and thank God for the period of fine weather here in Caithness that has allowed the grain to ripen sufficiently and for it to be dry enough to be harvested well. The ensuing bales of straw will serve the animals well over the winter too. All things that we should be thankful for.

The address given in St John’s illustrated that many of us do not think about the chain of events that allows the progression of harvested crops to end up in our breakfast bowls and yet, without the sun, the rain and the insects to pollinate the crops we would not just be bereft, but seriously malnourished if not starving.

For those of us who live amongst fields with crops or take the time to forage along hedgerows, harvest is a natural and sustaining part of our existence. I think we are fortunate in Caithness to still have that connection with the land. In urban areas and cities there is not so much thought as to where the food comes from – Mum’s or Dad’s shopping, or the supermarket. The idea that crops depend on the weather or insect pollinators isn’t provided. The connection is not there. This brings me to my next point, and that is the way in which those crops are presented to us as food. Advertising and marketing have done a great job in enticing us to become a consumer culture. Food wrapped up in plastic, ready within a few minutes from the microwave. The plastic wrapper? Chucked in the bin, or if you’re lucky, the recycling.

Plastic, as many of us may be aware from Greta Thunberg is contributing greatly to the changing climate. Of course, there are a myriad of other contributing factors, such as our demand for precious metals that end up in our electronic gadgets (that come wrapped in plastic), our demand for energy (with metallic conductive wiring encased in plastic insulation), food miles, energy miles, and of course our incessant demand for meat that has been most recently highlighted by the continued burning of the Amazon rainforest.

Once thought to be a wonder material, plastic does not break down. Biodegradable plastic breaks down into smaller pieces but does not decompose. It enters the food chain. The human food chain. A recent PhD study through UHI discovered that over 48% of creatures living near Rockall have ingested microscopic pieces of plastic. The burning of plastic allows carcinogenic particles to enter the air creating not just general air pollution, but polluting the air we breathe. It also contributes to global warming through the release of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.

It can be really depressing when this is highlighted, but this is a part of our everyday lives, whether we like it or not. We choose, if we want, to block it out so we don’t have to think about it. However, activists like Greta Thunberg illustrate how easy it is to make a difference. What a school girl can do. What any of us has the ability to do, if we choose to. 

I am going to suggest that you take two weeks and you make a note of every piece of plastic that passes through your hands, and through your life. Make a note of whether it has been recycled, or whether it is possible to recycle the plastic you have. How much goes into landfill? Would it have been possible to gain what you needed without using plastic?

Why am I going on about plastic? Because it’s one piece in the really complex jigsaw of life, but is also inextricably tied up with our human existence. We are charged with being stewards of God’s kingdom, to conserve and manage the resources given to us in a sustainable manner. Our use of the environment and the planet we live on has not been sustainable. It could be, but we would need to change the way we live our lives. Our existence is inextricably tied in to the climate, as are the crops we need for food. How and when crops ripen is due to a small window of specific temperatures and rainfall. Of course, there is some leeway in that some years will be better than others, but we are consistently experiencing higher temperatures that will make that window of the year in which harvesting can be done smaller and tighter. Increased temperatures may mean that certain insect species cannot survive in the higher temperatures. 

We can all make a difference in how we consume our food, and how we put back into the environment. Let us be thankful to God that we can make choices how we live. Let us be thankful that we can voice our dissent when choices are made across the nation that we might not agree with. Let us be reminded of how and why plastic has become such a convenience to us and how it transports the crops of the field to our plates. Let us encourage one another in ways that help us all change our ways to reduce the amount of plastic we use, burn, recycle or throw away. Above all, let us be consciously thankful to God that our Caithnessian farmers have a good harvest this year. 

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