“When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not wholly reap the corners of your field, no shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest. And you shall not glean your vineyard, no shall you gather every grape of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger:” Leviticus 19:10
My brother-in-law handed me “Braiding Sweetgrass” on my first day in Nebraska. I had heard of the title before, believing it was already on my TBR list. I paged through the chapters, read the back cover, and was instantly intrigued. Written by an indigenous botanist, the author examines her relationship to the earth through her culture and science. I had carried with me on the plane some other books which I hoped to finish. These books had due dates, stories in which I already had invested time. Yet, this white paperback beckoned me, moving me to take every spare moment to read while I was in Nebraska. Enraptured, I reread beautiful lines of prose that challenged my way of thinking. And in seven days, I finished the book, feeling like something within me had changed.
The book came at a time when I have been examining my own relationship to my culture, being one-quarter Native American. My biological father deserted me as an infant, leaving me with questions about my heritage. I knew that I had a grandmother with the maiden name of Whitefeather. My dark hair, high cheek bones, and olive skin tone always made me feel slightly out of place in my homogeneous hometown. I knew I was partly Native American, but I felt like an impostor, since I had no stories or connection to this part of my heritage. In the last few months, I have discovered I have more siblings, some of whom have been officially enrolled in the tribe to which my family belongs. I asked a question of Howie, my brother: “When did you identify with your Native American culture?” He replied that he was at a young age, when a teacher recognized his heritage, and encouraged him to be proud of his indigenous ancestry.
My favorite farmers’ markets will be opening soon, along with the abundance of vegetables and fruits. I have managed to curb my impulse buying in the dollar section of Target. But when it comes to a bundle of ramps, Swiss Chard, or radishes, I get dizzy with delight. I see the basket of nectarines next to the pint of plums, and think to myself, I can totally eat these this week. I forget about the other berries I also have sitting at home. I grab bags of fresh greens, tomatoes, and imagine the salads I will have for lunch, forgetting that on three of those days I will have leftovers that also shouldn’t go to waste. The reality is that I buy more food than the two of us can eat. And I end up wasting some of it.
Food waste is a national problem, and one that we are totally unaware of, or maybe we are in denial. It is estimated that a family of four throws away about 31.9 % of their food. We buy too much, over-consume, and then waste. But with food prices going up, I think more of us are becoming aware of how food affects our budgets, making us more conscientious of waste. But “Braiding Sweetgrass” made me aware of a deeper issue. I realized that I as a consumer, regularly take and waste with little consideration for the producers or my community.
Native American cultures, likely because of their hunting and gathering lifestyles, were keenly aware of their food and its sources. They believed in the principle of honorable harvest. This means they took only what they needed for their family, and left the rest, so that future generations would also be able to harvest. Robin Wall Kimmerer, the author of “Braiding Sweetgrass” encourages us to learn from indigenous people and their way of harvesting. Their practices kept the earth healthy, full of nutrients necessary for plants to grow, animals to eat, and life to flourish. She continues these ancient practices when she sees wild leeks growing. She harvests in the center of the leeks patch. This is where leeks are over-crowded, and the thinning of the patch will allow it to spread and grow. Kimmerer also takes the time to carefully dig for the leeks, and if they seem plentiful, easy to harvest, she continues, but only taking what she needs.
Kimmerer also reminds readers of the importance of sharing. When she forages, she often uses what she finds in the wild to nourish others. If she makes a bowl of soup from the wild leeks, she makes it a practice to share the soup with others. She recognizes that this food, some of which she did nothing to produce, is a gift, and that it’s her responsibility to share that gift with others.
Finally, Kimmerer writes about the concept of reciprocity. She says, “One of our responsibilities as human people is to find ways to enter into reciprocity with the more-than-human world. We can do it through gratitude, through ceremony, through land stewardship, science, art and in everyday acts of practical reverence.” This may at first seem contradictory to my Christian world point of view, but when I think about God giving us dominion over the earth, it wasn’t to destroy it or over-consume it. It was to keep the earth flourishing with the good gifts our God gave us in the way of clean water, food, and nature to enjoy.
When I think about how God is sovereign, and His goal is to help me live life abundantly, I must model his style of ruling in how I take care of the earth. My dominion should take the form of helping the earth flourish abundantly. He even gives us models of how to do this with his gleaning principle. Mosaic law encouraged landowners to leave some produce in their fields for widows and other marginalized people to harvest. In this same way, Ruth gleaned wheat, catching the interest of Boaz. And later, this foreign woman became a central figure in the lineage of both King David and Jesus. God’s principle of “honorable harvest” can benefit my world and future generations.
Where do I start? How do I engage in honorable harvest practices? It seems overwhelming: our overuse of plastic, waste food, soil depletion, clean water issues, and use of pollutants. For me, it starts in small steps. And one of those steps involves food waste. I have been thinking about my current food shopping habits. I am trying to be realistic about how much fresh fruit I buy, and whether I can consume all of it before it goes bad. Would it be better to limit myself to two or three different types of fruit before I purchase more? It seems reasonable. Also, I am really thinking about menu planning. If I purchase a vegetable that will be used for one recipe, but will have some of the vegetable left over, how can I incorporate that unused veggie in another dish? Finally, when I make a pot of soup or a main dish that is meant for more than two people, I can be more intentional in inviting someone over to share the meal with us or set aside a portion to take to them.
The last area of intentionality will be addressed later this summer. I love making jam and fruit butter with produce I pick or gather throughout the summer. But again, I tend to make more than the two of us can consume. The solution is to give some away, and this simple act of sharing can be a blessing to others, sharing the goodness of God.
Currently, I am looking into whether I can be enrolled in the Red Lake Nation, my family’s tribe. The draw for me is to find ways I can connect with my heritage. Unfortunately, it looks like a longshot due to a couple of reasons. But God finds ways to answer out heart’s desire. The lessons from “Braiding Sweetgrass” have made me proud of how my ancestors lived and treated the earth. Now, it’s my job to continue some of their practices.
This is such a thought-provoking post! I especially appreciated the concept of “honorable harvest” and the importance of taking only what we need and sharing with others. I’m curious, have you personally started incorporating any honorable harvest practices into your daily life? If so, what steps have you taken?
I have. I recently purchased some cereal for a treat in a Life group. I knew the rest of the box would go to waste, so I shared the box with a family.
I am also planning on growing herbs this spring on my patio, I plan to share the fresh herbs with my neighbor.
On a different note, last night I started mowing my lawn, and saw something moving in the grass. It was a nest of bunnies. It was later in the evening, the time of day when the bunnies would be out eating. So, we stopped mowing, and let them eat. I’ll finish mowing tomorrow, when it is hot, giving them a chance harvest more clover.