Sonoma County harvest season is the time of year to gather ripe and fruitful grape, pumpkin and apple crops. Seeing workers in the fields, the deepening colors of leaves, the slight chill in the evening air, and the luminous harvest moon always reminds me that it’s the perfect time of year to express gratitude for the gifts of the land and for those who work within its ecosystem.
Many farming practices and customs used by the first inhabitants of Sonoma Valley are still in use today and represent a constancy that ties us to those who worked the land before us. People have an innate need to provide food and sustenance for their own families – and for their neighbors – as the survival and the strength of all communities ultimately depends on sharing and looking out for each other.
The land is fruitful and resilient as long as we both appreciate its abundance and respect its limitations. It’s the foundation that will remain for generations to come if we support its natural ability to replenish and renew. As we experienced recently in the California wine country, the land is capable of facing devastating natural disasters like fire and within weeks will show early signs of rebirth. We can all be stewards of the land, whether we ever personally work the soil or grow a single plant.
Harvest season involves intensely physical work that is also incredibly time-sensitive. All farmers learn patience waiting for nature to signal when their crops are ready. The plants ripen in their own time, on their own schedule – not unlike how many of the events in our daily lives happen. Wise people learn to recognize and then cultivate acceptance of the things that are beyond their control. Harvest time offers many lessons if we pay even the smallest bit of attention.
The changeable forces of nature present a dichotomy in farming; sudden fluctuations in weather can prove disastrous to a harvest, but the ability to change is requisite for sustaining life. A life lived close to the land requires acceptance that we are inextricably entwined with a higher power. No matter how hard we may try to execute a carefully crafted plan with a farm crop (or in our daily lives), it’s much more likely that we will be navigating a course that involves challenges and significant compromises.
Times of abundance bring with them a deep sense of physical and emotional security. There is great comfort in the knowledge that your family and neighbors have food to nourish them, in feeling confident about looking to the future with a sense of hope, and in enjoying the celebratory rituals around harvest season. The tradition of harvest festivals predates Christianity and is a way to both rejoice and show gratitude for the bounty of the farmer’s labor and for their synergistic relationship with the land.
Modern day celebrations abound during Sonoma County harvest time, including outdoor winery dinners, special wine tastings, concerts and wine auctions. We enjoy the best of farm to table seasonal cuisine, food trucks with fresh regional and ethnic dishes abound, and it is a perfect time for balloon rides with incomparable views of the bursting vineyards. Restaurant and tasting room gardens are teeming with ripe produce that makes its way into their ever-changing daily menus.
As enjoyable as these events are, I never want to lose sight that harvest time is really about gratitude, community, and a reverence for the bounty of the land.
Even the German poet Goethe was inspired by the grape harvest season, and wrote these words:
We must not hope to be mowers,
And to gather the ripe gold ears,
Unless we have first been sowers
And watered the furrows with tears.
It is not just as we take it,
This mystical world of ours,
Life’s field will yield as we make it
A harvest of thorns or of flowers.
What fitting harvest season goals! To first plant the seeds and do the hard work before we expect to reap any rewards. To realize that we can have an impact on the world we live in, even if it’s in small ways. To shape our lives by harvesting the good, choosing the flowers over the thorns.