“Well-girdled Demeter made fruit to spring up from the rich lands, so that the whole wide earth was laden with leaves and flowers.” – Homeric Hymn to Demeter
For many people in the modern era Demeter is a distant Goddess. The Goddess who is attributed to have taught man the technology of
agriculture and gifted man corn, bountiful vegetable and fruits is seen as distant from modern society. For many people in the modern
era, vegetables are the green leafy thing that you see in the supermarket with the sign $1.89 per bunch hanging over it. Fruits are considered something that one should eat according to health recommendation guidelines at least once or twice a day.
That by the way is an optimistic assessment of the situation. For some people vegetables are things that falls out of the frozen packet that you add to your stir fries. Being someone who works in the health profession I no longer blink an eye when doing a diet assessment to have people waving at me a muesli fruit bar when asked if they have fruit in their diet.
In the modern era we have grown distant from the beauty and necessity of agriculture. We have grown distant from the concept of sowing, nurturing and protecting of crops. We have grown distant from the vagaries of nature that can both enhance but also destroy our crops. We have above all grown distant from the joys and amazing beauty that comes from harvest. Many of us in the modern era do not even know how extremely fresh carrots just pulled from the earth taste like.
We take our crops for granted. We no celebrate when there is a harvest mostly because for many of us the concept of a good harvest is nonexistent. It is no wonder many of us feel distant from Demeter.
Yet Demeter’s gifts and domain is central to human existence. At the time of writing food prices worldwide is rising. The factors for this are aplenty, rising petrol prices which increases transport cost, increasing consumption per capita, failing agricultural belts globally ( at the time of writing the Murray Basin in Australia, an agricultural area the size of France is at the risk of irreversible desertification. China’s agricultural land is shrinking owing to pollution, industrialization and desertification. Part of the USA is having decreased crop production owing to poor weather. Myanmar’s main rice producing deltas are flooded with sea water. Meanwhile agricultural areas of Spain, Portugal and Greece are failing owing to drought ).
The rising food prices has caused many people especially in the urban areas of the first world to feel pinched financially. We are constantly bombarded with articles about how food prices are going so high some people are going without some items. We read of articles of how people in the lower socioeconomic strata even in economically developed countries like the USA has to resort going to the food bank owing to soaring food prices.
However whilst rising food prices merely inconvenience the people in the First World, in the third world the same rising food price and increasing scarcity of food could spell the difference between survival and famine for many.
Now whilst I do not have the answer or solution to the global food price spike at the moment, I do have a solution to how individuals can save money on food and how they can get to appreciate and honor Demeter better.
The answer is …. Grow Your Own. That is Grow your own vegetables and grow your own fruits.
No I am not expecting you to be totally self sufficient unless you happen to own a two acre plot of land. Most suburban gardens however, even those with just a garden of ten by three meters can become productive orchards or vegetable farms that can significantly cut back your annual expenditure on vegetables or fruits whilst at the same time connect one closer to the concept of agriculture.
Note I know of one apartment dweller who has got a little tomato and pea farm on his balcony and that alone has cut back a significant portion of his expenditure.
Now how does this help one appreciate and understand the gifts of Demeter. By growing your own you understand for one the labor, the process, the care that it takes to grow, nurture and raise a crop. You understand the vagaries of nature that are outside your control that can either decimate or increase your yield. You also ultimately appreciate and celebrate the bounty of harvest that comes your way. The very act of picking the ripe mandarins from a tree that you have so carefully tended to and one that has survived all sorts of uncontrollable factors is a beautiful experience in itself. This will help one appreciate the bounty of Demeter and will make one realize why the ancients loved and celebrated Demeter so greatly.
Now I will share with you my practices in honoring Demeter and also my horticultural practices.
I live in a normal suburban house though admittedly with a slightly bigger garden than normal. The garden when I first purchased it was relatively bare excepting for a forested grove behind it.
When I first moved in I established a vegetable plot in the strip of along the fence. It is not a wide piece of land, merely 2.6 meters in width and running the length of the house.
I made four long vegetable plots. In between the two plots near the fence I erected an altar to Demeter the Bountiful. It is basically a flat slab of rock sitting atop a small pile of bricks that reaches slightly below my waist.
Now given that the area has good sunlight and quite rich soil I decided to grow in spring and summer zucchini on one patch, french bean in the other, turnips in one patch and kailan in the other patch. The autumn winter crop tends to be broccoli and celery. I usually keep one patch the whole year round with sweet peas ( because they are an annual plant ) I tend to cycle my crops to avoid disease in the patch and to help nitrify the patch. It also help keep the land productive.
Whenever I harvest my vegetables I will always offer the first handful of harvest I make to Demeter the Bountiful on her altar in thanks for her bounty. What I do is that if I am harvesting my broccoli I would leave the first floret I harvest to Demeter. If I harvest zucchinis I offer the first zucchini of the crop I pick to Demeter, I know some people citing Pausanias say that offering beans is possibly not acceptable to Demeter but I have been offering beans for a long time to Demeter prior to my knowledge that this restriction exist and my personal experience is that she does not mind french beans at least ( I have no idea about other beans ). I tend to offer the first handful of beans and peas I pick to Demeter.
With time I have grown various fruit trees throughout the house, incorporating fruits like feijoas as my hedging. Now that they have started to bear fruit a few years later at the start of every feijoa season I would offer the first handful of feijoas at the altar of Demeter. The same goes for my mandarin and persimmons.
Now I merely have a normal suburban garden but my harvest I have estimated saves me on average about $90 in terms of food bill a month. When my fruit trees are in full harvest I do not buy fruits for months. Similarly after every vegetable harvest my vegetable spending goes down for weeks as I cook my own vegetables.
Now I can tell you guys that agriculture need not be limited to those with normal size gardens. My sister for example owns a unit with a garden the size of a carpet. However she has a healthy indoor tomato garden and very productive winter melon and squash garden. She converts whatever space available in the garden and her garage into a winter melon and squash farm. She entwines the vines so that they cover every spot on the fence and has such an abundant harvest for such a small piece of land she has to give away the squash and winter melon!!
She also has an amazing indoor tomato garden all perched along her kitchen window sill. She grows the tomatoes in containers along the window sill and has a little beam which she attaches to let the tomato support itself onto. Every summer she produces from this window sill garden a good four to six kilogram of tomatoes.
My friend lives in an apartment with a small balcony. He uses every available space to grow vegetable and has a small pea and tomato farm going on. He once again grow in containers but get quite amazing yield.
I have another mate who bought a house in a shady area where in theory nothing but shady flowering flowers should grow. Smartly he chose to grow slow growing and shade tolerant vegetables like celery which only needs about an hour of good sunlight a day. He has an impressive celery garden.
Crops need not be merely vegetables. I have a friend who grows all kinds of citruses in his small in this case urban garden and every spring and autumn he has to knock on friend’s door to give away more citruses than he or his family could eat. His neighbor let grape vines grow all over one side of his garage and makes his own personal brew of wine. These are all in gardens so small in theory you would expect it is not even worthwhile to grow any crop.
My suggestion in terms of practice is to erect a small altar to Demeter wherever you plan to have a harvest crop. If you grow a small citrus tree or two in your garden erect a small altar to Demeter between the trees. If you ever establish a vegetable patch of any sort erect an altar to Demeter there.
In this way you connect your horticultural practice with your practice of honoring Demeter. Whenever you harvest any of your crops you can then honor and thank Demeter for the wonderful harvest you just had, howsoever small.
An interesting practice which I borrowed from a friend of mine from Hong Kong is her altar to Di Mu, or Mother Earth. She lives like many
Hong Kong people in high rise apartments that are very small ( her apartment is roughly 5m X 5m ) and many like hers does not actually have a balcony. However she has a spring onion leave garden that she grows around the low window.
She basically has a big wooden box that she filled up with earth and she plants multiple spring onions in. In the middle of the box she leaves a big bowl that is filled with pebbles.
The big bowl is the altar to Di Mu or Mother Earth. Whenever she harvest some of the spring onion shoots for garnishing she would harvest one and offer it on the bowl to Di Mu.
I have adopted this practice rather by mistake. A few months ago grown six small bird eye chill plants which I cultivated from seeds. I grew them in six small flower pots. I then placed them beside the living room window sill.
Now for some unknown reason I decided to put a small green saucer between the six pots.
A few weeks back the chillis were in such full harvest that I had no idea what to do with them ( they were above all fruiting out of season, but that may be because of all the artificial light they are getting ). After I harvested the first handful of chillis I for some reason decided to offer the first six chillis that I harvested to Demeter the Bearer of Fruits on the green saucer in thanks for the bounty she has provided.
Now I harvested in total about seven handfuls of bird eyed chilli out of season. This in effect saved me about $20, since the same amount of chilli in the market currently cost about that much.
So by growing your own, you not only can honor Demeter, you can save money.