The Lord spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai, saying: Speak to the people of Israel and say to them: When you enter the land that I am giving you, the land shall observe a sabbath for the Lord. For six years you shall sow your field, and for six years you shall prune your vineyard, and gather in their yield; but in the seventh year there shall be a sabbath of complete rest for the land, a sabbath for the Lord: you shall not sow your field or prune your vineyard. You shall not reap the aftergrowth of your harvest or gather the grapes of your unpruned vine: it shall be a year of complete rest for the land. You may eat what the land yields during its sabbath—you, your male and female slaves, your hired and your bound labourers who live with you; for your livestock also, and for the wild animals in your land all its yield shall be for food.
A measure of the severity of this winter can be taken by observing the behaviour of birds in our garden. In severe winters, it is not uncommon for a fieldfare to take “possession” of the land under the apple tree in the back garden. Using the fallen apples as its food source for the winter, it scolds blackbirds, song thrushes, mistle thrushes, and the occasional redwing. It amuses me as it chases one bird across the road, while 1 or 2 sneak round the side and urgently peck as much food as they can. It tolerates smaller birds, but this March, in the sudden return of snow, all birds have fed together.
The agricultural cycle suggested in the first seven verses of Leviticus 25 shows both a reliance on communal foraging and an understanding of the need for the land to lie fallow for a year or more. Unexpectedly sophisticated perhaps for a nomadic tribe, or perhaps not for a settled people who remember lean years of famine.
The role of mallow (Malva sylvestris) helping the inhabitants of Jerusalem survive the siege of 1948, together with dandelion, chickweed and other volunteer species (weeds to the urban gardener) are reminders that it is possible to live off the land for a year at a time. Since the 1950s, the rise in popular restaurants specialising in local, wild, herbs and greens, together with a return to foraging on an individual basis, demonstrates how nutritious such a diet is. Similarly, communal gathering of unharvested fruit and veg to feed the homeless and the hungry; the gleaning of fruit to ferment are all indicated here.
Communal feeding, in the varying feeding habits of birds, allows different foods to be revealed and eaten. An amnesty to allow communal gleaning and foraging benefits all, with a much wider diet for everyone, the domestic animals and the wildlife of the area. What remains uneaten will seed or compost to nourish the land, the people and the wildlife in the years ahead.
Creator God, in the world-wide staggering rise in the cost of living, may we remember that understanding the proper uses of all you provide will in turn provide enough for all creation.
The Rev’d Ruth Browning, retired minister worshipping with Thornbury URC