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Worldwide Celebrations of Food

By Olivia Olson, Farm Fellow

As late August rolls around on the mountain, we've found ourselves knee deep in produce. I've been thinking more about how incredible this bounty of beautiful, diverse produce is and how it nourishes us. The sheer variety of colors, flavors, and styles of edible plants that spring or are coaxed from the earth each season is astounding, and the harvest is simultaneously incredible and overwhelming (yes, you can have almost too many tomatoes and summer squash).

Shelly Beans from the Allegheny Farm.

There's just nothing that compares to the process of caring for and watching a plant grow, emerging from a seed to producing delicious fruit. Seeing the beauty of this bounty has helped gain a better understanding of why people have celebrated the harvest around the world for thousands of years. In the spirit of the harvest season, I was curious about global harvest festivals and am excited to share a few that I learned about here.

Pongal is one of the most popular harvest festivals in Southern India. It is a four day festival in mid-January each year, as people show gratitude to nature and celebrate the beginning of the sun’s journey northwards, called Uttarayan. This festival has a long, rich history, particularly with the Tamil ethnic group, with origins tracing back to the Sangam Age in 200 B.C to 300 A.D. On the first day, farmers anoint their plows and sickles with a paste made of sandalwood before cutting their newly harvested rice, as a way to pay respect to and worship the sun and the earth. The literal translation of the word Pongal is “spilling over,” because of the tradition of boiling rice in a pot until it overflows.

Another widely celebrated harvest festival is the Mid-Autumn Festival, also known as the Moon Festival or Mooncake Festival. This is an expansive holiday that lasts from 1-3 days during mid-September to early October in many countries in East and Southeast Asia. Traditions differ between countries and regions, but one consistent practice is that of of making, selling, and lighting lanterns of different shapes and styles. Some people light lanterns to guide spirits, and for others, these colorful lanterns have become symbolic of the holiday itself. Mooncakes are also widely eaten during this time, and many people have a tradition of giving the mooncakes to family members and other important people in one’s life. People celebrate the moon during this festival, giving thanks for the harvest and praying for a good one next year.

In Benin, the Yam Festival is held annually on August 15 in celebration of the harvest of the yam, a crop native to and deeply rooted in many ethnic groups like the Mahi, Nagot (Yoruba), Bariba, and Dendi in that region. The yam carries great dietary and cultural importance. Not only is it an important food source, but it is believed that through eating the yam the spirits of the ancestors are renewed. This Festival is a time for people to thank the gods for a good harvest that year, and to ask for it to continue in the coming years. It also serves to bring families and communities together, as they share in meals and celebration.

I'm definitely grateful for our harvests this year, and for the opportunity to learn and grow. Happy harvesting and preserving everyone! Enjoy the earth’s bounty and I hope you make something delicious!


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