Tonya Taylor, Director of Production for the Bainum Foundation Farm, recently gave my husband and me a tour of the farm.  The farm is located off St. Louis Road a bit north of Middleburg.  On the farm, we watched the bees and butterflies collect the season’s last harvests of nectar.  We admired the fall vegetables and greens growing in the fertile soil. We learned how the farm used crimson clover and other cover crops to provide a fertilizing blanket for the vegetable plots that were already put to bed for the winter.  Seeing the farm and listening to Tonya’s enthusiasm for growing healthy food reminded me how much affinity agricultural societies had for the soil.  It also reminded me how deeply rooted Thanksgiving is in the traditions of ancient harvest festivals.  

Harvest festivals date back at least 10,000 years to the earliest agricultural societies.  As agriculture spread, so did agriculture-based cultures’ dependence on their local soils to produce successful harvests of fruit, vegetables and meat.  Harvest festivals were celebrated in virtually every agricultural society from Africa and the Middle East to Europe, Asia and the Americas.  The festivals expressed thanks for and celebrated the harvest in good years.  In poor years the festivals entreated whatever force the culture associated with the harvest to provide them with a better future.  Harvest festival traditions were born from feasting on the best of the region’s local food and drink.  

While food production and consumption are often now divorced from one another by entire continents and oceans, harvest festivals are still celebrated around the globe. National Geographic’s list of the top 10 harvest festivals includes festivals in places as diverse as Plimoth Plantation in Massachusetts, Bali in Indonesia and Eswatini (Swaziland) in Southern Africa.  

Tonya and the other farmers at Bainum use traditional, regenerative farming techniques.  While looking at the rich soil and beautiful produce from the Bainum Foundation Farm, it is easy to understand why our ancestors and we would want to give thanks for and celebrate a successful local harvest.  The farm was a tapestry of different shades of greens and browns with splashes of color provided by the fall’s last blooming flowers, vegetable plants and cover crops. The farm’s tapestry was created by mixing a variety of different types of vegetables and flowers together in groups rather than growing acres of a single crop in evenly spaced rows like corn.  

Tonya showed us the secret to the farm’s success – its rich, dark soil alive with beneficial organisms and full of nutrients.  The quality of nutrients the soil transfers to the farm’s produce truly matters because the produce goes to improve childhood food security in Washington, DC’s 7th and 8th wards.  Just as for our ancestors, the quality of the harvest can be the difference between hunger and a nutritious diet that supports a growing child.  

This Thanksgiving, my family will take our cue from the Bainum Foundation Farm by remembering that the roots of Thanksgiving are in the ancient harvest festivals and in the soil.  We will celebrate by eating locally, regeneratively grown food and by thanking farmers like Tonya and their rich, living soil for the feast on the Thanksgiving table.

SOURCELynne Kaye
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