Twelve thousand years ago, in the Fertile Crescent of the Middle East, human beings began the work of planting and tending food crops for the first time.
Last Saturday, in West Stockbridge, we were much too busy with the rush of tending our own crops to give much thought to the history of agriculture. Hah.
We are still planting some long season crops and flowers. It’s been so dry that everything desperately needs water — except the weeds, which are experts at growing in even drought conditions. So we drag around the hoses and we hoe and pull the weeds to give our big, healthy plants the best possible beginning. We haven’t gotten into the heavy harvest season yet, when it’s all we can do to keep up with the tomatoes and snap beans and squash, but we know those days are coming up fast.
This is not to complain about the work! We love this work and we count ourselves very lucky that we get to make a life this way. But it’s easy to get stuck on the to-do list and forget to stop, take a breath, and marvel at the miracle of growing food for our community.
But when Cian came in from the field after nine on Saturday night and said “I finally ran out of light,” we both nodded in silent acknowledgement; it was the summer solstice, the longest day of the year.
Anything we plant now — the late rounds of cucumbers and beans, fall greens, and so on — will take longer to grow than their spring-sown counterparts, owing to the shorter day length. The waning daylight over the coming weeks will also prompt plants to mature, producing the vegetables we will be harvesting in abundance before long.
For millennia, farmers in the northern hemisphere have marked this day. Historically, many cultures have celebrated the solstice with festivals and ceremonies at sites like Stonehenge, built to recognize and honor this crucial moment in the astronomical year.
We like to imagine farmers throughout history in their fields on the solstice, hand to their brow, surveying the crop as the sun finally, slowly begins to sink below the horizon. What a privilege, for us, to be a part of that history.