Harvest & Fireflies

Bringing in the harvest is always a time of celebration and reassurance. I’m reassured that another crop has been successfully grown and harvested. This is no small feat. Warm winters, late frosts, not enough rain, too much rain and hailstorms all conspire to thwart the effort. Some years, it seems like a miracle we get any fruit at all but the contentious partnership with my fickle lover known as Nature usually results in a crop, to a lesser or greater degree, every year.

So it is that the Currant harvest is finished for another year. A very hot year. Currants, like many berries, are harvested in the summer and it’s a bit of a frantic time because the July temperatures often exceed 90°. This year, the heat was a particularly formidable challenge. We finished the harvest on the hottest day ever recorded on earth. Harvesting in the heat means that once the berries are picked, it’s crucial to get them into the freezer ASAP to sustain their fresh condition and preserve all the antioxidants, Vitamin C and flavor.

Unlike a lot of berries Currants are only harvested once a year during a very short window. Since most Americans are still learning about what a Currant is, it’s very risky to offer them to the fresh market. The folks who know currants snap them up while the majority of people pass them by for the more familiar raspberries, strawberries and blueberries and spoilage and loss is inevitable. As the market grows and Americans become more savvy about our favorite little berry, the fresh market offerings will increase. In the meantime, it’s necessary to get the fruit frozen as soon after harvest as possible to ensure the highest possible quality. Several years ago, I bought large freezers for the Currant Farm, so we don’t have to transport them.

This year was not a great year for currants mainly because of the extraordinarily warm winter. Currants need cold winters to properly set their fruit. We expect to have enough for all you currant aficionados out there, but it wouldn’t be bad advice to suggest stocking up a bit. Just a thought.

When the harvest is done each year, there’s always the sense of completion that’s usually accompanied with an audible sigh. Last night, as I was sitting on the front porch of the old farmhouse thinking about all the other farmers over the last 250 years who sat in this very spot, looking out over the same field, and feeling pretty much the same way as I was feeling right at that moment. The crops, livestock, farming methods and names have changed but the love and stewardship of the land and the sacred act of farming and harvesting is the same.

The field across the lane from the front porch is a fair hill and as the western sun sets behind the house, the top of the hill is the last part of the farm to let go of the day’s light. As the dusk devours the lit field, the first fireflies began their luminescent choreography. Fireflies are crepuscular (from the Latin crepusculum meaning twilight). They dance only at dusk and dawn. They are one of many animals that produce bioluminescence. The larva has the same luminescent ability as the adult, so this flashing is thought to be a warning to predators although since the on and off sequence is unique to each individual, some entomologists believe it plays a role in attracting mates as well. The light is caused when the beetle takes in oxygen and combines it with a substance called “luciferin” to produce light with virtually no heat.

The name of the chemical compound, Luciferin comes from the word Lucifer. This is a great example of how word meanings can evolve and change dramatically over time. The use of “Lucifer” is first found in the Vulgate which is the 4th century Latin translation of the Bible. It is used to describe both the bright morning star (Venus) and the fallen angel. The iterations of the name hold both meanings throughout many cultures and religions. The Christians later applied the name to Satan, ironically the Prince of Darkness and this title was then popularized in Dante’s Inferno and Milton’s Paradise Lost.
Fireflies are crepuscular (from the Latin crepusculum meaning twilight)

About 10 years ago some friends were visiting and one evening, after returning from a dinner in town, we climbed out of the car near the field and were greeted with one of the greatest shows of lightening bugs I have ever seen. They seemed to be moving in harmonious waves like schools of fish all the while blinking in a magical ballet. I don’t know what it was all about, but I’ll never forget that dreamlike moment.

There are about 2,000 species of fireflies around the world and there is concern that the numbers within certain species have been dwindling. While no one knows for sure why, one theory is that light pollution may play a role. I have certainly noticed what seems to be many fewer of these entrancing creatures over the last decade here on the farm. That is, until this year. There has been a greater show of these luminescent winged dancers than any time in recent memory. Nothing quite equals the sight of thousands of pirouetting blinks and while the abundance of fireflies doesn’t balance out the shortfall of currants, their fairylike twinkling on a warm summer’s eve touches my soul in the same way I imagine it touched the soul of the farmer, 250 years ago, as he sat on this very porch.

Cheers from the Currant Farm,