The Old Farmer’s Almanac is Curiously New


I love that the Old FA is the oldest continuous
publication in the U.S., with its 215 editions catalogued by the
Smithsonian Institution.  And publishing during WWII wasn’t easy.
After German spies were caught with the Almanac in their possession,
government censors insisted that the term "weather forecast" be changed
to "weather indications," to throw the enemy off their game, one

The 2007 edition contains old standbys like advice
about growing crops and animals, the best fishing days, a cure for
freckles, and more astrology than I’d seen since the ’70s.   When asked
about all the astrology (curiously sharing the same publication as
astronomy) the editor described it as the "folklorish part of
almanac."  And what about all the classified ads for spiritualists and
psychic readers (for as low as $1.95)?  "If it works for them, we’ll
provide them the opportunity to find it."

Now imagine, tucked in with all the astrology and
the 18-months-in-advance weather forecasts, these topics seemingly
ripped from the pages of today’s newspapers – organic gardening, green
roofs, meadows replacing lawn, local food, meditation, and the ethical
treatment of farm animals.  And Stillman tells me she gets lots of
positive feedback from her readers about them.

They even tackled the hottest topic of all – global warming – with
an article called "The Good News about Climate Change," which Stillman
admits lots of readers have called "blasphemy".  I don’t know; we
gardeners have been known to see the silver lining ourselves.  But I’m
not sure this is really true:  "While the scientific community is
divided over many aspects of the global warming theory, they agree on
the impact of global warming on precipitation…Global warming will
mean more condensation and more evaporation, producing more and/or
heavier rains."  And "To the parched millions in Asia and Africa, this
will be life-saving."

When challenged, their meteorologist Michael Sternberg stands by his
prediction of global cooling – that’s right, that it’ll be COOLER in 10
to 20 years, "though manmade influences might change that."  When asked
about the obvious warming, he says "That’s the challenge – fossel fuel
influences."  Got that right!

In a survey of their readers (3.5 million sold) 58
percent own no more than 1 acre and only 11 perfect are small farmers
or ranchers.  So with the preponderance of hobby farms over traditional
farms, it’s no wonder the content now includes topics of interest to
ex-urbanites.  And good news for our trend watchers – their readers
list gardening tips as their second most popular topic (presumably
after weather).

And while we’re on the subject of their gardening articles, I was
recently interviewed for them by Doreen Howard, who’s doing an
article about turf replacement for the 2008
issue. So just knowing they hired a respected, experienced garden
writer who then had the good sense to find yours truly to interview and maybe use the garden photos thereof – well, they’re winning me over faster than I can type.

And BTW, Doreen is the good soul who created the Gardenwriters Listserv, which is now the heart of the writing community.  You can see the natural generousity of this bunch coming out in their discussions, and I’ve gotten some great help there myself. Almanaceditors

Janice Stillman (pictured here with the OFA
publisher), is the 13th editor of the Old Farmer’s Almanac and also the
first woman in that job. She says "It’s a kick to work on it,"
this "beloved American icon."  I’ll BET it’s a
kick.  Maybe even a hoot and a holler.


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