LEWISTON, Maine — Hundreds of almanacs served a nation of farmers over two centuries ago. These days, only a handful of them remain.
One of them, the Farmers’ Almanac based in Maine, is celebrating its 200th edition this month with traditional gardening tips, home-spun humour and life hacks. In New Hampshire, The Old Farmer’s Almanac marks its 225th anniversary with tributes from President Barack Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, among articles on mangrove forests and presidential beer preferences. Both have special anniversary sections with articles from the past.
In Maine, the long-term weather forecast calls for a teeth-chattering winter for the eastern two-thirds of the nation. “We’re calling it the return of the old-fashioned winter. The ice cold winter is back,” said Sandi Duncan, managing editor.
Janice Stillman, editor of the New Hampshire publication, said the coldest, snowiest conditions will be along the Canadian border, down through southern New England and the Appalachians.
“The irony to me is that the ‘mitten’ of Michigan will probably not need mittens this winter,” she said. “They’re the one spot along the border, really, that is predicted to be relatively mild.” Cold temperatures also are expected for the rest of the country, but not as cold as the norm, with wet weather in California and Florida.
Modern scientists don’t put much stock in the almanacs’ unconventional weather formulas based on sunspots, tidal action, and other factors, but they are part of their tradition.
In Maine, Editor Peter Geiger blames an El Nino dubbed Godzilla by NASA for wrecking last year’s prediction with unexpected warmth. This winter, he says, there’s no El Nino to foul up the weather prognostication. The Old Farmer’s Almanac also acknowledged an incorrect interpretation of El Nino.
Geiger said his almanac circulation is declining, but he’s getting more eyeballs online, thanks to a new generation of backyard farmers interested in locally sourced produce, meat and eggs. The almanac has 1.1 million Facebook followers and sends an email blast to 250,000 readers each week. But it still publishes about 3 million printed editions, including retail and promotional versions.
“It’s full of good advice that’s still relevant in a digital age,” said 24-year-old reader Chris McKellar, who manages a 180-acre ornamental plant farm in addition to growing produce for himself in southeastern Wisconsin.
The Farmers’ Almanac was founded by David Young in New Jersey, and it never missed a beat when it moved to Maine in 1955. The Old Farmer’s Almanac, believed to be the oldest continually published periodical in North America, was founded by Robert B. Thomas. It also publishes an average of 3 million copies a year and has over 1.3 million Facebook followers.
Among Maine’s articles from the past is one urging folks to remember “old-fashioned neighbourhoodliness” in the face of newfangled technology like cars, daily mail and telephones in 1923. Editors urged readers in 1834 to abandon tobacco and in 1850 promoted the common bean leaf to combat bed bugs, a pest that’s making a comeback.
Some suggestions seem offbeat these days, like advocating the use of fireplace bellows to resuscitate drowning victims in 1855.
The Maine almanac had some forward-thinking advice for women in 1876, telling them to learn skills to avoid being dependent on finding a husband. “It is better to be a woman than a wife, and do not degrade your sex by making your whole existence turn on the pivot of matrimony,” it counselled.
This year, the Old Farmer’s Almanac included “candid” commentaries from celebrities on their favourite, most useful, and least favourite parts. Lots liked the ads and puzzles.
“Um, I’m a big eater. I like the recipes,” said Bill McKibben, a writer and environmentalist in Vermont.
Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Bill Richardson said he enjoyed the “Anecdotes & Pleasantries” section. The most useless? “The jokes. They’re lame.”