Memphis Backyard Farmer

First Fruits
July 4, 2011, 8:18 pm
Filed under: Bee Keeping

There’s a concept in the Hebrew scriptures called “tithing”. It’s the setting aside of the “first fruits” of your harvest to give as an offering of appreciation to God. It imitates Abel’s example (of Cain and Abel fame, the first sibling rivalry) of giving the first born sheep of his flock as an offering. Evidently, tithing has always been somewhat contentious, because Abel got himself killed for it. Eventually in scripture, tithing becomes institutionalized, but not in a solemn, ritualized, “pass the plate” kind of way. God makes a party out of it. It’s one of the three great feasts that God calls his people to celebrate. And we see in the Judeo/Christian scriptures that this tithe becomes a way to provide not just for the priestly class, but also for those of each town who are in poverty.

As a little farmer, and as a Christian, I take this idea of tithing seriously. Each year when the first harvest comes, I begin trying to find a way to tithe from my “first fruits”. I have a friend who is a missionary in Mozambique. It’s not unusual for him to receive a live chicken in his offering plate at church on Sunday. But in our American culture and context, it would baffle the preachers and teachers, the elders and the budget men, to receive a jar of honey in the offering one week. So my wife and I examine our relationships to see who would be most blessed by a jar of honey. The first year we did this, we literally tried giving a jar to the preacher at our church, only to discover that he and his wife didn’t eat honey. To a bee keeper, that was heartbreaking on so many levels. We’ve given to young couples who enjoy good food, but as single-income parents with several children, just couldn’t afford to splurge, even on something as simple as honey. So they won our annual lottery.

This year our winner announced himself.

We’ve been in the neighborhood going on fourteen years now. In that time, we’ve raised many more children than just our own. Every kid on the block has been in and our of our house. Some feel enough at home that they walk in, unannounced, rummage through my cabinets to get something to eat, sit down, and chat. One such young man just came home from over a year in prison. At nineteen, he made a few too many bad decisions and found himself with a felony charge. We lost him to a state prison too many miles from home. He arrived home a few weeks ago with a much more serious look on his face, a face that was much thinner than it had been, having lost any baby fat that might have been left from puberty. I heard he was back, but for over a week I couldn’t coordinate my schedule so that we could see each other and chat. When we finally ran in to each other two weeks ago, the only question he had for me was, “Do you have any honey?”

Like many of the kids on the block, this guy knows how quirky this white family is. We raise food in boxes in our yard. We hang our wash out to dry. We have big piles of compost in the yard, and we raise bees. Several of these guys – this one included – have made trips to the bee yard with me. This particular young man has seen me hive a swarm. Most have hung around during extracting, baffled by the process, but captivated by the smells and tastes nonetheless. Fresh out of prison, this young man wanted a jar of honey.

Cha-ching, you win.

Growing, producing, and harvesting has brought me to an appreciation of the God of the Bible in a way that I’m just not sure I could have if I only sat behind my desk, typing and tracing and emailing and projecting. I pray all year for the safety and health of my bees. I ask God to bless the seeds I put in the ground. I plead anxiously for rain, and yet ask again for him to hold off the floods. And when the time comes, I give back to Him a portion of what I’ve asked for and what He’s delivered, the sweet, golden crop. Even so, giving of that very first goodness we’ve worked and hoped for is hard, much harder than writing a check on Sunday morning as the plate passes by. But we give, in appreciation and trust that the God of harvest will bring forth plenty.