Friday, January 27, 2017

Farmers' Almanac: Fact or Folklore? by Donna Duffy

Did you know there are two versions of the Farmers’ Almanac? The Old Farmers’ Almanac is celebrating is a whopping 225 years old. The “younger” Farmers’ Almanac is only 200 years old, and has a Special Collector’s Edition to celebrate this milestone. 

Here are some facts about the Farmers’ Almanac from Sandi Duncan, in managing editor of the Farmers’ Almanac. The interview was conducted by Bill Radford of the Colorado Springs Gazette last fall.

The longevityof the Farmers’ Almanac may be because people are constantly looking for ways to simplify, ways to get back to nature. While the rural landscape is not what it was when the first edition came out, "we're going back to the idea of growing your own food, whether you live on a farm or live in a suburb." She calls the Farmers' Almanac "a constant in an ever-changing world."

What's in the Farmers' Almanac? According to its title page, it's early America at its best, delightfully threaded through with a measure of good humor, amusing anecdotes, wise-old weather predictions, helpful hints and good reading for every member of the family done on a high moral plane. It's those wise-old weather predictions that usually draw the most attention.

Even in this age of accessible, up-to-date forecasts, "people still consult the Almanac for a long-range outlook," Duncan said. "Nobody else really goes out on a limb to give you an idea of what might come six months to 12 months down the road."

The long-range predictions are based on a secret formula that dates to 1818, Duncan said - a set of rules developed by the founding editor that takes into account sunspot activity, tidal action of the moon and "a variety of other factors."

Not surprisingly, there are skeptics. "The ability to predict events that far in advance is zero," Penn State meteorologist Paul Knight said in a 2007 article on Penn State's website. "There's no proven skill, there's no technique that's agreed upon in science to be able to do that. Duncan acknowledges that meteorologists always have been skeptical. "We never say we can take the place of your local weather forecasts," she said, "but we give people an idea of what could be ahead."

So what's ahead? The Farmers' Almanac is predicting a colder-than-normal winter for two-thirds of the nation. Average snowfall is predicted for the zone that includes Colorado, while unseasonably hot and dry weather is forecast for the Rockies next summer. Here's a reality check: the National Weather Service reports that Colorado's snowpack is currently 150% of average.

In addition to weather news, the 2017 Farmers' Almanac has tips on raising backyard chickens, a look at how farming has changed and an examination of the raw food diet, along with many other articles. Duncan said her favorite part is a 16-page flashback section of "vintage material." Some of the advice in the old Almanacs is "eerily accurate" or still pertains today, she noted. For example, the 1834 Almanac warned against tobacco use. 

And while some lament the loss of face-to-face contact in today's age of email social networking, the 1923 edition expressed a similar concern: "Don't allow old-fashioned neighborliness to be forgotten in these days of automobiles, trolleys, telephone and daily mails. The good old custom of visiting is too rapidly disappearing in many communities."

Even though the Farmers' Almanac and the Old Farmers' Almanac are more folklore than fact, it's fun reading, and perfect for a snowy Colorado day.