Farmers’ Almanac publisher Pete Geiger and managing editor Sandi Duncan. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

When it comes to major world events and political divides, the Farmers’ Almanac has always taken a hands-off approach. 

When the Civil War was raging across the country a century and a half ago, the Almanac didn’t mention it in its yearly publications. It didn’t reference the Great Depression, either, or the world war that followed. 

The Farmers’ Almanac has always been about farming, food preparation, weather forecasting and helpful lore. The greater issues that vex mankind are in different realms and the almanac has traditionally chosen not to go there. 

This year is different. With the COVID-19 pandemic a problem on everybody’s plate, the almanac editors felt that ignoring it would be irresponsible. 

“Our job at the Farmers’ Almanac has always been to provide information so that people can thrive no matter what the obstacles are,” editor Peter Geiger said. “I toyed with whether or not to mention COVID, but it’s so significant, and what the almanac does is so important to people so they can be empowered.” 

In a way, the almanac is the perfect reference for people who are adapting to radically different lifestyles now that the coronavirus has changed so much about how we go about our lives. And a lot of people seem to recognize that fact.

“When everything first started going on and everybody was stuck at home, people wanted to learn how to grow their own food, how to start planting garden,” managing editor Sandi Duncan said, “and we got a nice uptick in traffic on our website. People go to the Farmers’ Almanac because, as we like to say, we’re gonna help you prepare for the unpredictable.” 

Food shortages got you scrambling to find ingredients? Check out “Baking Substitutes” on page 179 of the latest issue, which hits the shelves Monday. 

Overly stressed about COVID-19 and fretting that you, too, might catch it? Read about how to make use of nature’s relaxing medicines on page 30, or flip to page 28 for tips on how to naturally boost your immunity with things such as zinc or elderberry. 

Worried about running out of food if a second wave of the virus should hit? Flip to page 38 and start filling your pantry today.

When you get right down to it, the world may need the advice doled out by the Farmers’ Almanac now more than ever. 

“The COVID-19 pandemic has and will continue to have far-reaching effects on life, some of which may never go back to normal, others constituting a new normal,” Duncan wrote. “Yet, just as nature has taught us, we all possess a resilience and we will bounce back adjust and adapt.” 

The Great Divide

Of course, don’t go thinking that this year’s edition is nothing but dire news about COVID. You can find that just about anywhere. As it is every year, the latest almanac is crammed full of information and tips pertaining to the vital balance between man and nature. It’s stuff you can use in your daily life no matter WHAT is going on in the broader world. 

Have a problem with mice getting into your house or car? Turn to page 72 and find out how to deal with it. Worried about killer bees? That’s on page 98. Looking for eco-friendly alternatives to common household items?  There’s a nice two-page spread about it starting on page 18. Confused about the various moon names and still not quite sure what a “super moon” is all about? Flip to page 108. The almanac has you covered. 

And of course, there is the weather. Some people turn to the Farmers’ Almanac specifically for its weather forecasts and they’ll find one in this issue. “The Winter of the Great Divide,” the almanac editors are calling it, and the prognostication calls for it be “cold and snowy in the north, drought in the west and everything crazy in between.” 

The forecast also predicts a mild and wet spring and a thunder-filled summer to follow. 

The almanac’s weather forecasts are always a source of mild controversy. They are generally believed to correctly call the weather between 75% and 80% of the time. 

“But we remind everyone that our predictions are long range and are meant to give you a good idea of what might come your way in the next year,” the fabled Caleb Weatherbee wrote in this year’s forecast. “We also bow to Mother Nature, who loves to throw us a curve ball — such as this past winter’s abnormal Arctic Oscillation.” 

Yes, about last year. In August 2019, the almanac predicted the upcoming winter would be marked by intense cold and precipitation, with extremes so severe they compared it to an amusement park ride. “The Polar Coaster,” is how the almanac described the way they envisioned the coming winter of 2019-2020. 

It didn’t turn out to be entirely wrong, mind you. But it wasn’t spot on, either. The intense cold never really came. 

“The ‘Polar Coaster’ was a bust for Maine,” said Mike Haggett, a forecaster who runs Pine Tree Weather, “as most of the stations I sampled posted either their fourth or fifth warmest mean average temperature from December through March. We did not get the long lived strong arctic high pressure — polar vortex — that dropped anchor over Maine for any extended period of time. If anything, the ‘cold’ didn’t really show up until April as we had a couple of good snow events, and then the last hurrah back on May 9th.” 

The winter of 2019-2020 DID turn out to be a bit of a “Polar Coaster” in the Rockies and in areas around the Great Lakes, the almanac points out in its look back at the season. 

“But in other areas, the winter was more of a dud,” the almanac editors wrote, “a vacation from the traditional cold and snowy conditions many areas of the country normally experience.” 

So, what went wrong? Mainly, the arctic cold the almanac had predicted got stuck up in the north, in a holding pattern known to meteorologists as “Arctic Oscillation.” 

“Unfortunately,” the editors wrote in this year’s edition, “unusual phenomenon such as the Arctic Oscillation, can and do pop up late in the season and cannot be accounted for when we are formulating our predictions.” 

Haggett gets that. Since 2016, he’s been offering up his own forecasts on the Pine Tree Weather Facebook page and admits that attempting long-range predictions can be a perilous endeavor. 

“As with any weather forecast, there is a certain amount of bust potential that goes along with it,” he said. “Most weather media outlets and NOAA issue seasonal forecasts, so what the Farmers’ Almanac does is just another idea of what to potentially expect. It’s obviously a part of Americana, as it has been referred to as a fairly reliable seasonal forecast idea by folks for two centuries.” 

Grow your own

It always somewhat amuses Geiger that so much emphasis is placed on the Farmers’ Almanac’s weather predictions when weather is such a small part of what they do. The predictions themselves only occupy three or four pages of a typical edition. The rest is filled with the gardening tips, moon and tide charts, recipes and observations of animal behavior that fishermen, farmers and average Joes have come to count on. 

And in this weird era of face masks, food shortages and stay-at-home warnings, the almanac’s brand of information has become vital to an even bigger range of people who are struggling to adapt to what some insist on calling “the new normal.” 

When coronavirus came along and forced people to rethink the way they acquire food, cook and feed their families, the Farmers’ Almanac didn’t have to shift in its approach. It’s always been about maintaining a healthy working relationship between man and nature. It just so happens that this relationship is more important now than it has been in generations. 

“We are helping people appreciate the land, the environment and even helping people grow stuff on their balcony in the city,” Geiger said. “It isn’t about being a farmer necessarily. But it is about appreciating what farmers do and appreciating what it takes.” 

And they’re already hearing from readers who are adapting to this different lifestyle with help from the almanac pages. 

“Some are raising backyard chickens for eggs,” according to the note from Geiger. “Others are growing their own food for the first time or reusing and repurposing common items, and there are those who are simply connecting to nature more and more.” 

When you turn to the almanac to discover how to use zinc and elderberry to boost your immune system, you’ll find that information, not because of COVID-19 but because that’s the kind of information the almanac has always offered. It’s the same with the article on how to save money while filling your pantry, the seed starting dates, or the tips on gardening by the moon. 

The world has changed since coronavirus came along and we’ve had to change with it. 

The almanac? That hasn’t changed at all.

 


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