Do you wonder why those two particular foods were chosen to symbolize abundance? To the tillers of soil, the hewers of wood and drawers of water in exile, “I will bring you out of your bondage, into a land that flows with milk and honey” … offered animals that produced food on their own, rather than by human labor.

Steve & I cleared low brush, so the early light will waken hives to intense activity

Although I may not legally sell my goats’ milk, my friends happily share it, swapping me eggs, jars, soap, homebrew,  hay and labor, which come in every bit as handy as money.

Here’s how a half-gallon of milk looks “on the hoof”

At Market last week, a young woman came up to ask for goat milk. After explaining the legal restriction,  I added that if she would like to come out once a week to milk, she could have the milk for free. Without stopping to ask the distance, what day etc, she exclaimed, “Oh, no… I don’t want to milk!”  Me: “Okay! (smile)” (I like milking.)

Then this came up on my favorite Beekeeping Blog (see blogroll at left):

“A friend of mine asked how much honey I would get out of the swarm I just caught… there are people who must think bees are like cows, that you somehow squeeze the honey out of them. ” That reminded me of others so distanced from their food sources that they think a cow or goat just walks around with milk in its udder, and when you want some you go out and milk.

Okay, summary: bees produce honey to feed their young and allow their colony to survive and multiply. In a good year, there may be extra for the beekeeper: but in a sparse year, the bees still require care.  Goats produce milk to feed their young, and continue their species. They do not have milk till they have bred and given birth: then they have to be milked – twice each day – or the milk supply ceases.

Bees are not honey machines, nor is a goat a milk machine. Merely because a creature produces food, is no reason to exploit it without thought for its well-being as part of creation. Logically, the ethics of raising meat humanely extends to plants, which are alive till the moment of harvest.  Is that the real lesson of “milk and honey”? Not only bees, goats and cows, but plants and trees, and soil, have their own life. Anything that produces or becomes our food – even to land itself – has a claim on us for our thought and care.

Afterthought: as gardening teaches us to appreciate pollinators, looking after several hundred thousand pollinators has made me much more aware of the pollen producers, so often taken for granted:

.. like common Wood Violets…

… or Pawpaw, with only one fruit for dozens of pollen-laden flowers…

… or like Water Maple, earliest and least-noticed of Spring flowers.