At this time of harvest, as we approach Thanksgiving, we reflect upon the many blessings for which we are grateful. One of these is the bounty of the great nation in which we live and the resulting abundance of food it provides for us. Many of the Thanksgiving scenes on greeting cards and artwork depict this. As we give thanks for this blessing, it is also important to give thanks for those who work the land and toil so that we might have its produce. These are our farmworkers who are an essential part of the life of America as well as to our state of Florida
John Kenneth Galbraith, a well-known economist, advisor to presidents and wise societal observer, once casually remarked that “only farmers worked really hard.” Such a remark is not surprising from someone whose father was a farmer and who originally undertook studies in agriculture. It is also not surprising from an economist who wrote in his 1958 work, The Affluent Society, that the United States had reached a stage in its economic development which should enable it to direct its resources more toward promoting better public services and less to the production of consumer goods. This thesis was also repeated in Galbraith’s 1996 work, The Good Society, in which he stressed the need for affluent society to serve the poor. We are a nation whose economy revolves around the production of consumer goods. We are a society that has lost its appreciation for the work of farmers who give their lives to the service of the public in the most basic form. Galbraith’s casual remark is indeed a wise one, for upon the work of our farmers all other forms of labor depend.
Four hundred years before Galbraith’s economic analysis, not an economist but a painter expressed well on canvas Galbraith’s observation that farmers work really hard. Peter Bruegel, the Netherlandish painter, also a wise societal observer but more familiar with agricultural life, painted a series of depictions on the work of harvesters. One of these, The Haymakers, portrays men and women harvesters energetically carrying baskets of harvested fruits, while others stride with rakes and tools. The magnificent panoramic scene is filled with the beauty of the harvest and an almost dance-like display of the harvesters. The rhythm of the painting reinforces the impression of vitality and joy in living in harmony with nature. Another of Bruegel’s paintings, The Harvesters, depicts an equally magnificent scene, but with the harvesters coming in exhausted from their hard work. They are lying down, eating and drinking the fruit of their work. Their exhaustion is the result of their joy in working the earth and providing food and drink for others. The Haymakers and The Harvesters form one picture which depicts the joy of farmers who really work hard. Their work is not the produce of consumer goods but the basics of sustenance for the common good. Such work is joy. Such work deserves respect and justice.
Thousands of years before Bruegel’s painting, a more prominent figure set the parameters for the insights of a modern economist and a Renaissance painter. That figure was God Himself, who for six days worked creating the universe. He then handed His produce over to man and woman to cultivate in imitation of His own labor. God worked so that others could work and find joy in so doing. God’s labor was very much like the joyful dance-like rhythm of the Haymakers and His rest on the seventh day was like that of the Harvesters. Indeed, God’s own work and that which He handed over to man and woman was not consumer oriented, but service oriented. God produced not The Affluent Society but The Good Society. God Himself made it clear that all work is like that of the farmer, which is to bring us into harmony with His creation. God Himself was the farmworker and since He is the exemplar of labor, all other work is a participation in His efforts. Of course, God would not call everyone to be a farmer, but all real work would be in the form of God’s.
All of us need a greater appreciation for the dignity of the work which farmers carry out for us in our nation. Here in Florida, farming has been a stable way of life which has always faced many hardships, difficulties, and injustices. Many of these difficulties stem from living in a society which has become more and more consumer oriented rather than service oriented. Farmworkers provide a basic service. They give us the sustenance by which we live our daily lives. There can be no substitute for such sustenance and any substitution for it leads to an unhealthy life and an unhealthy society.
Farmworkers do much more than provide us with sustenance by their working with the fruits of God’s creation. They remind us all, by their hard work, of the meaning of life which is found in the dignity of work. Work is not a burden but the means by which we cooperate in God’s plan of creation and even redemption. Labor is the means by which we fulfill our existence and make a real contribution to the lives of others. True work is beneficially tiring, and farmers epitomize that fact. Work is also joyful. The scenes in Bruegel’s paintings are wonderful reminders that joyful living includes hard work and that leads to productivity in the service of others. In this is found true happiness.
We thank our farmworkers for being the ones who really work hard. We are grateful for all they do and for the sustenance they provide us. We need to be more aware of the difficulties and the injustices they face and do our part in assisting them. Their labor is very much akin to the work of God Himself. We also thank them for reminding us of our dignity in the work that we carry out. We all have different vocations to which God has called us. Work is a part of that vocation and brings a joy when seen in its proper perspective. Farmers live lives in close connection with the earth God has created for us and in a close communion with Him, reminding us of what really matters in our lives.
We salute, thank, and support our farmworkers, especially those here in Florida. May this traditional time of harvest be one of blessing for them and for all of us!
Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito
November 12, 2021