May 12, 2017

The Wheatfield

12 Yea, the Lord shall give that which is good; and our land shall yield her increase. Psalm 85

In 2008/2009, U.S. farmers grew nearly 2.4 billion bushels of wheat on 63 million acres of land. In the United States, one acre of wheat yields an average of around 40 bushels of wheat. About half of the wheat grown in the United States is used domestically.

In 2008, the state of Kansas was the largest wheat producer in the United States with North Dakota a close second. Kansas is number one in flour milling in the United States. Kansas produces enough wheat each year to bake 36 billion loaves of bread and enough to feed everyone in the world, over six billion people, for about 2 weeks. An acre of Kansas wheat produces enough bread to feed nearly 9,000 people for one day.

For the past year, Elliot Ross has been photographing the world of farmer Jim Mertens.

Inspired by the empathetic imagery of Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans for the Farm Security Administration, Ross created an essay that examines the relationship between the farmer and the land, giving both characters equal focus in “The Reckoning Days.” The grains of wheat and the cracked palms of laborers are given the same attention, depicted in a mesmerizing palette of blues and yellows. This is how bread, the most basic staple of our diet, is made. “Society is generally removed from the processes in which bread and hundreds of other products reach our baskets,” Ross said. "We must protect, nurture, and celebrate the salt of the earth.”


The Wheat Field

From each one in the hard soil a myriad are spun.

Sheaves of gold on bronze in files beneath the sun.

Is it towards the whiteness of the wafer

The field bends on autumn winds;


Towards the body which is breath not flesh

That the body which is only flesh

Scuffs its limbs upon the soil,

And fears at night tomorrow's toil,

And sees in dreams the shade of musk

The trumpets rising in the dusk?


Or is the seed of wheat enough,

Its own bronze parable of blood,

Enorbing in its nucleus

The architecture of the Ark,

The constant covenant of bread?


On the Thirtieth Meridian, at the pivot of the Earth,

A fan spreads out in silted twists

Pinned by five gold inches to the river's wrist,

And clasped by five white fingers of that marble hand.


Between the rise and fall of speech

The pulse is felt throughout the land,

Its rhythms mimicked by the priests,

Its regulations drawn on dirt

In circles, trisects, lines and cubes

Of numbers and of wheat,

Of incantations scratched on stone

That from their power we may eat

The bread, for we have tasted of the fruit,

And found it, if not sweet, of use

In surveying tombs and gardens that will suit.


The wilderness yields only flesh

Of fruit, or fowl, or hunted beast.

It cannot give us wheat and bread,

And it is bread that we would eat.


Though our bodies be of infirm flesh, Our thoughts enslaved to blood and heat;

Though we scan the skies with eyes of beasts,

Still we would walk in fields of wheat,

And from such sheaves deduce the laws

Of war and wealth and God, and pause

To build our towns and temples, paved streets,

And gird the very globe with grids,

And make our maps and take our measures,

And populate the final stars with our myriad

Grown from one, in the harsh soil, our single treasure.


Posted by gerardvanderleun at May 12, 2017 10:09 AM
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"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." -- Karl Popper N.B.: Comments are moderated and may not appear immediately. Comments that exceed the obscenity or stupidity limits will be either edited or expunged.

The first two photos brought a tear to my eye...beautiful.

Posted by: Julio at May 12, 2017 10:22 AM

While they were eating, Jesus took some bread, and after a blessing, He broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, "Take, eat; this is My body."

I've long been suspicious of the fanatical rejection of all things gluten in recent years. It was not a leaf of kale he held up, nor even a piece of lamb (which would seem fitting, if perhaps a little too on-the-nose). No, it was bread. Unleavened, possibly literally just flour and water. Bread that fed West through all its ups and downs. Bread that feeds the world and has no doubt helped make it possible for 6 billion and more to live at once. Bread that the hipsters can't reject fast enough, in favor of some more "natural" and less god-blessed food.

Thank God for these farmers, and thank God for our daily bread.

Posted by: Julie at May 12, 2017 11:55 AM

The bread of yesterday is fleeting if available at all today.

Posted by: ghostsniper at May 13, 2017 4:02 AM

Very nice.

The wheat fields are all green right now, but that will change soon. I like to ride my Sportster just outside of town to see what will soon be oceans of gold.

Posted by: Snakepit Kansas at May 13, 2017 5:45 AM

Lovely, as ever, Gerard.

Posted by: Joan of Argghh! at May 13, 2017 4:58 PM

Never say it's all for naught
God's bounty and Man's labor bought.
Flood and drought test the farmer's will,
While devotion to duty pays the Task Master's bill.
Hail the hero as he wields his plow
From dawn to dusk, from then to now.

Posted by: Howard Nelson at May 13, 2017 5:15 PM

The wheat of today is nothing at all like the wheat of even a hundred years ago, let alone the distant past. It has been hybridized into a monster that many of us cannot safely eat.

Posted by: pbird at May 15, 2017 6:55 PM