Savouring the gift of shared meals

Two slices of an orange, cut into tiny triangles, juice sluicing along a knife’s edge. Available for the taking, prepared by someone else in the house with more than enough to share. This is not unusual in this household.


What was unusual was that the three of us who currently live here each ate a solitary breakfast. Unusual but not unexpected. While there are patterns to life on Orkney Farm and tasks that must be done, the design of the day is not pre-determined. It unfolds, shaken out according to whim or immediate necessity.

This morning, for example. We were all up by 6:30 a.m. Ian took his coffee to the front veranda, wrapped himself in a blanket to whisk away the damp of this chilly May morning. Naomi intended to go for morning jog before breakfast but, upon stepping outside, opted to water the vegetable garden and fruit trees instead. An hour later she came inside, asking if there was still coffee in the pot. Of course there was. Anyone who drains the pot knows to ask if another one ought to be made.


And so, this morning, I sat at the kitchen table alone, eating toast and peanut butter, slowly waking myself up to the day.

I have lived in this century old farmhouse for exactly one week. This was the first morning I ate breakfast alone. I am certain it will not happen often.

I am one week into a four-month sabbatical, a gift from Inter-Varsity, where I work full-time. For the next four months, I have been blessed with the gift of time so I can focus on writing a book.

I am living, for the first month, at Orkney Farm, another blessing bestowed on me. Naomi, the farmer, and Ian, who rightly calls himself the farmer’s wife, but also has a full-time job with Inter-Varsity, have welcomed me like family. They are generous to me, giving me room and space to write to my heart’s content, welcoming my help with the chores but never insistent, never setting too firm a deadline.

The only set daily rhythms I have observed so far have to do with eating and sleeping. These rhythms apply to animals and humans. We all must be fed and we all must bed down for a good night’s sleep.


Animals are fed twice a day, morning and evening, although they do tend to peck and graze unendingly. The pigs and chickens crowd around shared feeders, the cows line up at the trough. Duffy the dog eats her two meals alone in the porch, but that’s only because she is the solitary dog on the farm. This will soon change. She is expecting puppies, who will snuggle up to her teats hungrily nudging each other out of the way, but all, eventually, emerging well fed.

Ian, Naomi and I eat three meals a day together sitting around the long wooden table that occupies centre stage in the kitchen. Often we are joined by guests; there is always more than enough food in this kitchen. The timing of our meals is happenstance — whenever one of us is hungry things are set in motion. Cutlery and plates are placed on the table, soup is heated on the stove, cheese and bread set out on a wooden board.

But coming together to eat is not happenstance. Once the food is ready, a call goes out across the farmyard, around the corners of the house, up the stairs to the bedroom where I write.

“Come and eat.”

Which, translated into Orkney Farm language, means, come and eat and enjoy each other’s company. Sit for a while. Unhurry yourself.

Meals at Orkney Farm are food for the body and food for the soul. We laugh, we ponder complex questions, we talk about what we have encountered in our day thus far. The piglets becoming friendlier, 14 eggs collected from the coop, an insightful phone call, a satisfying sentence, read or written.

This is a very different life than the one I have lived for the past 35 years. Single, I prepare and eat most of my meals in solitude. Even when I am at work among many colleagues I have a tendency to eat lunch at my desk, not wanting to waste a second of productivity, there is always so much to be done. Every now and then I break that pattern and eat in the office kitchen with colleagues, but even then, I always have one eye on the clock. My task list never seems to get any shorter, instead it regularly overwhelms my day, swallowing up time without me even realizing how good it would be to slow down and savour it instead.

A table set for a shared meal calls me away from tasks to which I have assigned far too great an importance. When I sit at table with Naomi and Ian, we are all implying agreement on one thing: The tasks will wait, this is what is important right now. Food, eaten slowly. A pot of tea simmering. Conversation that allows us to unwrap our day thus far, to share its gifts. Speaking out loud, musing over what the next few hours will hold until, once again, we respond to the call: Come and eat!