Retro: Poor reap the harvest from generous community groups

Harvest festival at Danesholme Junior School, Corby
Harvest festival at Danesholme Junior School, Corby
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The nights are drawing in and as autumn makes its presence felt, schools and organisations are gearing up for their harvest festival celebrations.

The event traditionally takes place in late September or early October.

Kettering Millbrook Infants , Harvest Festival, l to r, Kyran Wood, 6 and Bethany Smith, 6, with just a small section of the harvest produce , Picture by Glyn Dobbs, Wednesday, 27 September 2006 NNL-141010-162006001

Kettering Millbrook Infants , Harvest Festival, l to r, Kyran Wood, 6 and Bethany Smith, 6, with just a small section of the harvest produce , Picture by Glyn Dobbs, Wednesday, 27 September 2006 NNL-141010-162006001

Harvest is from the Old English word haerfest, meaning autumn.

The full moon nearest the autumnal equinox is called the Harvest Moon. So in ancient traditions Harvest Festivals were normally held on or near the Sunday of the Harvest Moon.

Nowadays, schools, community centres and churches celebrate the harvest by donating goods to the poor.

Early English settlers took the idea of harvest thanksgiving to North America. The most famous one is Thanksgiving, held by the Pilgrims in 1621.

Exeter Primary in Corby had a harvest festival, where it donated the collected items to The Autumn Centre.......From left: Liam Walker, seven, Mia Solomon, five, Beatiz Miguel, seven, Jacey McArthur, four, Annabelle Keeling, seven, Ernie Humphreys (Autumn Centre Manager) and Craig Sutton, seven......Friday, 24 October 2008 NNL-141010-161804001

Exeter Primary in Corby had a harvest festival, where it donated the collected items to The Autumn Centre.......From left: Liam Walker, seven, Mia Solomon, five, Beatiz Miguel, seven, Jacey McArthur, four, Annabelle Keeling, seven, Ernie Humphreys (Autumn Centre Manager) and Craig Sutton, seven......Friday, 24 October 2008 NNL-141010-161804001

The festival is now held at the end of harvest, which varies in different parts of Britain.

Until the 20th century most farmers celebrated the end of the harvest with a big meal called the harvest supper, to which all who had helped in the harvest were invited.

It was sometimes known as a Mell-supper, after the last patch of corn or wheat standing in the fields which was known as the mell or neck. Cutting it signified the end of the work of harvest and the beginning of the feast.

There seems to have been a feeling that it was bad luck to be the person to cut the last stand of corn.

The farmer and his workers would race against the harvesters on other farms to be first to complete the harvest, shouting to announce they had finished.

In some counties the last stand of corn would be cut by the workers throwing their sickles at it until it was all down, in others the reapers would take it in turns to be blindfolded and sweep a scythe to and fro until all of the Mell was cut down.

The 2014 harvest has been the best for some time for some of our farmers in Northamptonshire.

Duncan Farrington, who writes a column for the Northants Telegraph featuring Bottom Farm in Hargrave, said: “Harvest is almost complete and it has been an excellent one here at Bottom Farm.

“That’s in stark contrast to the disastrous one we had last year. The 2013 harvest was the worst in my farming career, whereas 2014 will be remembered as one of the best.

“The rapeseed yielded very well, as did the wheat; and what’s more, we managed to get most of it harvested in good conditions, with some lovely weather.

“We have just finished the spring barley, which was not so good, leaving one field of spring beans and one of spring wheat to gather.

“No sooner has the last crop been safely gathered in than we are back on the land planting next year’s crops, with the rapeseed already safely in the ground.

“The cycle continues from one year to the next. It is very much a case of working day and night, sometimes not knowing which priority to do first before the weather breaks, as it inevitably does at some stage.

“I sit writing this feeling rather weary as the rain falls, giving us all a day’s well-earned rest.

“Luckily I sold a small amount of our wheat forward at the high price but, as with all such decisions, one never knows what the right thing to do is, while I haven’t yet mastered the art of trading with hindsight.

“Therefore, in summary, I have had a bigger crop than hoped, which is worth less than hoped, so it probably all works out about even.”

We’ve searched our archives to find the best harvest festival pictures from the past 10 years.