Here is a poem fragment I think of every fall.

“Live as if you liked yourself, and it may happen:

reach out, keep reaching out, keep bringing in.

This is how we are going to live for a long time: not always,

for every gardener knows that after the digging, after

the planting,

after the long season of tending and growth, the harvest comes.”

(Marge Piercy, From “The Seven of Pentacles” )

A cornucopia of fall produce from the Farm at Willow Run.

A cornucopia of fall produce from the Farm at Willow Run. VMRC photo.

As I write these words, I am looking across my back yard to the adjacent

Farm at Willow Run,

owned by the Virginia Mennonite Retirement Community (VMRC).

At the entrance.

At the entrance.

As a neighbor to the farm,

I love watching the changing seasons,

as beautiful flowers, corn, beans, squash, tomatoes,

and other vegetables too numerous to mention,

poke their heads out of the ground, shoot up, kiss the sky, give up their fruit

and then turn brown and sink back down into the ground.

As a member of the board of VMRC and as a prospective resident,

I see the farm not only as abundant and beautiful,

but as a creative, healthy, and sustainable way to help feed 1000 people every day.

Since I walk past the farm entrance frequently,

I am tempted to walk the paths.

One day the gate was open and one of the farmers, Nate Clark,

was standing beside his tractor.

Farm specialist Nate Clark.

Market Garden Coordinator Nate Clark.

Nate knows a lot, not just about planting, weeding, and harvesting

but also about composting, pollinators, wasps, soldier bugs, pirate bugs, . . .

all of nature’s pests and nature’s friends.

Nate, a Goshen College graduate, is part of a team of employees and volunteers at VMRC devoted to the farm.

Students at Eastern Mennonite University also work on the farm.

If you know me, you surely understand why this project lights up my life.

It combines so many of my life’s passions, from beginning to the present.

It gives me hope for the future, too.

In other words,

“after the digging, after

the planting,

after the long season of tending and growth, the harvest comes.”

How are you experiencing harvest?

Shirley Showalter


  1. Marlena Fiol on September 19, 2019 at 12:04 pm

    I love what Quaker teacher and author Parker Palmer’s book, “On the Brink of Everything: Grace, Gravity and Getting Old,” says about the fall:

    “I’m a professional melancholic, and for years my delight in the autumn color show quickly morphed into sadness as I watched the beauty die. Focused on the browning of summer’s green growth, I allowed the prospect of death to eclipse all that’s life-giving about the fall and its sensuous delights.
    Then I began to understand a simple fact: all the “falling” that’s going on out there is full of promise. Seeds are being planted and leaves are being composted as earth prepares for yet another uprising of green.”

    • Shirley Showalter on September 19, 2019 at 12:33 pm

      Yes, Marlena! Thank you so much for that quote. Parker Palmer is a good friend and one of my very favorite writers. In fact, I think the poem fragment I quote from Marge Piercy above also came from Parker’s amazing collection of poems for all seasons. Thank you for starting our conversation with this reminder of the connect of falling to rising again.

  2. Joan on September 19, 2019 at 12:04 pm

    How wonderful that they feed the 1,000 residents from the farm. That is amazing and should be an example to all retirement communities.

    As fall approaches I’m harvesting time and rest. After being too busy over the summer months it’s now time to sit back and relax.

    • Shirley Showalter on September 19, 2019 at 12:31 pm

      Good for you, Joan! I hope you and Bill have lots of good, relaxing, times this fall. You have a good internal gauge for the speed to travel in this stage of life.

      The farm does not feed all the residents for every meal, but it makes a major contribution to many meals. Also, residents can purchase the freshly-picked produce to make on their own. The cafe has a small farmer’s market several days a week all summer. Come see it sometime!

  3. Maren Tirabassi on September 19, 2019 at 2:15 pm

    A wonderful story and reflecting on my own harvest … it includes an amazing abundance, but also somethings I didn’t eater and weed enough and a few things I left too long on the ground!

    • Shirley Showalter on September 19, 2019 at 4:22 pm

      “For all this, nature is never spent. There exists the dearest freshness deep down things.” You made me think of Hopkins today.?

  4. Elfrieda Neufeld Schroeder on September 19, 2019 at 3:29 pm

    How lovely to be able to walk past that beautiful farm every day, to familiarize yourself with the people and the premises, and feel comfortable about the fact that at some point you might be a resident there as well, and that the food you will eat will come from that farm.

    My garden consists of pots. I’ve harvested lots of mini tomatoes, peppers, green onions, parsley and dill. And my parsley has provided a home for a lot of black swallow tail caterpillars. I just wish I knew where they were hiding when they become pupas, so I could observe them emerge. Haven’t seen any so far.

    • Shirley Showalter on September 19, 2019 at 4:25 pm

      I tried a raised garden this year, Elfrieda. Moderate success. Next year the soil will be deeper and richer! But flowers and parsley did well this year. Tending living things is a pleasure.

  5. Melodie Davis on September 19, 2019 at 5:57 pm

    Our garden is too big. Our favorite part of gardening though is probably the havest sharing–bringing in cucumbers and tomatoes of all kinds to VMRC wellness center as freebies. Or church. Or with neighbors. At some point we’ll have to downsize but this year for the first time we kept up with weeds etc. pretty well until we went away for 2 weeks. Now I’m content to watch it go to seed, even the weeds. Still getting pole beans, carrots, sweet corn, a few tomatoes, green peppers, potatoes, and I may have just picked the last two cucumbers. We’ll see.

    • Shirley Showalter on September 19, 2019 at 9:15 pm

      The season is always surprising as endings give way to hidden treasures emerging, right? We are in the bonus rounds now.

      I am not surprised to know that you share your harvest. You plant too much so that others may benefit. The connection between harvest and generosity is a strong one. Good for you, Melodie.

  6. June on September 19, 2019 at 6:27 pm

    This instantly brought to mind, ‘bringing in the sheaves, bringing in the sheaves, we will come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves. ‘
    Harvest comes, a time to clean out the garden and prepare it for next year.
    If you journal about your garden, it is often a good time to reflect on the past years successes and possibly some failures, and plan for next year.

    • Shirley Showalter on September 20, 2019 at 8:04 am

      How well I remember singing that song, June, both in Sunday School and on the farm.

      A garden journal. Sounds like a good book title, doesn’t it? Lovely idea and practical too. Thanks, June!

  7. Marian Beaman on September 19, 2019 at 7:44 pm

    A bounteous repast, tasty in every way!

    • Shirley Showalter on September 20, 2019 at 8:06 am

      Thanks for the note even as you travel and celebrate your new book Mennonite Daughter! All best to you in harvesting your labors. The poem describes your six-year process well.

    • Audrey Denecke on September 22, 2019 at 8:57 am

      Love this post Shirley. The Farm at Willow Run seems to be an amazing community.
      Yes, I can well imagine why you feel the connection to the mission of the farm. How cool to be adjacent to it.
      Fall and spring are my favorite seasons. We have many family farms in the area. Many of the family farms have summer and fall markets from small tables in front of their farm, to slightly larger honor system carts, to much larger markets which employ surrounding farm neighbors and sell homemade aprons and other goods. I enjoy shopping at these places … very much farm to table. Next weekend I will be shopping for pie pumpkins and butternut squash for roasting and making puree to freeze for soups over the winter. And, I will bring home other harvest bounty for a range of recipes. It’s such a joy!

      I hope the continuous rains haven’t destroyed too many.

  8. Sherrey Meyer on September 19, 2019 at 8:45 pm

    A beautiful and encouraging post, Shirley! Beautiful because of the love shown for others and God’s grace in provision. Encouraging because a community is supporting each other in sustainable ways. My harvest this autumn is to continue to find my way back to normal, whatever that might be following this surgery that wasn’t supposed to be so extensive and followed by what seems like the never-ending recovery. But God knows best, and I’m trying hard to grasp the bounty He sets before me in the way of rehab and recovery. Thanks for the wonderful post today.

    • Shirley Showalter on September 20, 2019 at 8:07 am

      Sherrey, here is a prayer for a good harvest of health for you. God bless.

  9. Betty on September 20, 2019 at 9:07 am

    This reminds me of the poem, “When the Frost is on the Punkin,” by James Whitcomb Riley. I memorized part of that poem in elementary school and haven’t thought of it in years! It was fun to go back and read the whole thing. Fall and harvest also brings the anticipation of all of my sibs and families (now including some of our grandchildren) gathering on
    our home farm in Pennsylvania to live together for a week. We’ve been doing this for 19 years. This is the harvest of our parents who planted the seed of nurturing family roots. They never got to participate in this harvest but somehow I think they know and rejoice!

    • Shirley Showalter on September 20, 2019 at 10:35 am

      James Whitcomb Riley, one of Indiana’s most famous citizens until recently, when his home-grown style fell out of favor. I recently saw a picture of that other Indiana icon, James Dean, reading from the collected works of JWR, cigarette dangling from his fingers. Wish I could show it to you here, but just google it.

      Your family tradition brings literal and figurative meanings of harvest together. I rejoice with you in the strength of your family roots. Your parents tended well!

      • Betty on September 20, 2019 at 8:38 pm

        I looked up the pictures! Interesting! I did not realize that Riley hospital in Indy was named after James Whitcomb Riley.

        • Shirley Showalter on September 20, 2019 at 10:08 pm

          Ha! I didn’t know that either. We both learned something. I have learned a lot from you, Betty.

  10. Laurie Buchanan on September 20, 2019 at 9:42 am

    Shirley — In your response to Elfrieda, you wrote, “Tending living things is a pleasure.” Len and I are currently “tending” our almost one-year-old granddaughter, Luna, about 20-hours per week. That privilege is a tremendous pleasure. And we’re hoping that the harvest is a person who is positive, uplifting, constructive, and healing—one who makes a positive impact in her sphere of influence.

    • Shirley Showalter on September 20, 2019 at 10:39 am

      Laurie, from one “granny nanny” to another, “Cheers!” A grandchild is like the seed of the seed we planted once but has sprung up again. We get to tend and feed and cuddle, keeping weeds and pests at bay. Gardeners for a short while. With influence that goes far beyond what we will see completely. I have no doubt that Luna will not only thrive herself but become a kind, compassionate, creative, and influential person just like her grandparents.

  11. Linda Gartz on September 20, 2019 at 5:35 pm

    Well, I’m not experiencing the harvest directly, as in “I planted, I tended, I harvested,” but rather visiting my local [Evanston’s} farmer’s market, abundant with everything you’ve described. It’s like a “healthy cocktail party,” as one observant friend described it. Ou
    But I have another harvest, I’m enjoying now. For years, my husband and I saved and saved, and invested, and taught our sons to save and use money wisely. As I write this, we’re in Cartegena, Columbia, soon to embark on the Amazon, Salar de Uyuni Bolivia, and the Pantanal in Brazil – all places of important nature to preserve and protect for all humans and for the whole planet.
    I feel this trip (and more to come) is our harvest from years of work, saving, investing, nurturing our assets and nurturing institutions of importance to us. Thank you for sharing your beautiful images and thoughts on harvest.

    • Shirley Showalter on September 20, 2019 at 10:13 pm

      Wow, Linda! Yes, you have found a remarkable way to invest, save, tend, and harvest a dream. What a beautiful way to learn and teach from the earth itself. I participated in the Chicago climate demonstration today. (Yes, I’m in your city!) it gave me hope. Especially when the first grade chanted.

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