During the Ching Ming Festival, we honor our ancestors.
All day, all over Hong Kong, local families visit cemeteries to pay respect to those who have gone before. Graveside picnics are common as generations express gratitude and maintain connections across the ages.
When I think of my own history, I am amazed by my great-grandmother and her sister who convinced their husbands to explore the unknown. Living 30 miles from the birth place of Jesse James, the women were uncomfortable with the effects of guns and alcohol in the community.
So, they signed up to be pioneers.
They loaded their horses and wagons on the new train from Joplin (USA) and headed to the great white north. On arrival in Saskatoon (Canada), the city was full so they spent their first winter living in a tent. As a temperance colony, it was a popular destination for young American families.
The year was 1909 and my grandfather was 10.
They eventually built a sod cabin on the home quarter and broke the land and became part of the farming community of settlers I grew up in.
I heard this story a just few years ago when I decided to spend quality time with my 89-year-old bachelor uncle who lives alone in his farmhouse in a rural community 15 miles from nowhere. His decision t0 dwell solo is a testament to his resilience as well as the quality of relationships nurtured over decades of relying on each other for survival in the vast emptiness of the remote mid-west.
Looking back, I can’t help look ahead.
These people built their own shelter, raised livestock and grew enough food to feed the family over the many months of long, dark nights and sub-zero temperatures, often dipping to minus 40 with a brutal prairie wind as familiar as the blue sky.
When I connect with them now, I often wonder what they make of our decision to turn food production into the hands of industrial agribusiness whose primary purpose is to generate returns for shareholders. The treatment of livestock as a commodity is one of the most heartbreaking practices I know, having learned the importance of the humane treatment of farm animals.
Vast landscapes of mono-culture have replaced the colorful patchwork of rotated crops I grew up with and pulling nutrients non-stop out of the soil means the best profits come in the marriage of genetically modified plants to chemical fertilizers and pesticides.
Today’s generation is suffering the consequences.
It is the response to growing cases of allergies and illnesses and a multitude of effects on our body that fuels growing interest in a return to small holding farms where diversity is the sustainable practice.
Locally, our farmers are getting more opportunities to introduce the benefits of fresh produce at trendy pop up markets.
Not a fan of trends, I am pleased to see the slow and steady shift from processed mono-foods to a variety of seasonal produce available closer to home — less packaging, less shipping, less storage, less energy-greedy super-marketing and more direct contact with those whose purpose is providing us with the fresh, whole food we have taken for granted.
Many teachings are available to us through the stories of those who came before us. Sometimes the lessons are subtle, sometimes we are encouraged to unlearn and always we gain a new perspective about the remarkable change happening in our lifetimes.
What stories will our future generations tell?
natural life in the fast lane
Everything is connected.
Listen to your own heartbeat.
“Every man is a quotation from all his ancestors.” Ralph Waldo Emerson
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This essay was originally published on 4 April 2017.