The Old Farmer’s Almanac
A History and a Prophecy
Upon opening the small, tidy, 2016 Old Farmer’s Almanac, the booklet’s spine cracks and pops, its pages a mixture of waxy magazine shine and leather-soft newspaper. Aah, that fresh print smell. Each one is filled to the edge, capturing a culture, telling a story, and mapping the year’s transforming terrain.
Flipping through the 2016 issue, it’s easy to understand why generations of New Englanders have been drawn to the almanac, with recipes like Dressed-up Crab Rangoon Dip, Cranberry Bean Soup, an article on home brewing alongside a photo of a tall-reaching hops plant, a three-page story about Typhoid Mary and, of course, an entire section on weather predictions. For others, the almanac means tradition. “Many of our readers have been buying The Old Farmer’s Almanac for decades, and some are just now starting to buy it because it was something they always had at home growing up,” says Sarah Perreault, the almanac’s Senior Editor.
The almanac is North America’s oldest continuously published periodical. The first Farmer’s Almanac was published in 1792 by Robert B. Thomas, who set the stage for future publications with his motto for the book to be “useful, with a pleasant degree of humor,” a statement printed on the almanac cover today. During the time Thomas was publishing his almanac, many others were doing the same thing, following Benjamin Franklin’s introduction of the craft 60 years prior (famously known as Poor Richard’s Almanack). Most likely what set Thomas’ almanac apart from the rest and has kept it circulating today were his uncanny weather predictions, constructed from a formula still used for current issues and kept in a tin box at the Almanac offices in Dublin, New Hampshire. These weather predictions, long serving as a hallmark for the almanac, are traditionally said to be 80 percent accurate.
In 1936, after Thomas’ death and the end of John H. Jenks’ turn at editor, an unfortunate fellow named Roger Scaife took over publication of the wildly popular book. During his term, the almanac experienced its first and only significant decline in circulation and income, falling from 225,000 copies sold to 88,000. Scaife had replaced the weather forecasts with temperature and precipitation averages, an action that elicited public outcry and a strong dislike for the new editor. Taking numerous hits to his reputation, Scaife quickly restored weather forecasts to the almanac, but he never fully mended the deflated opinion loyal readers carried of him.
The Almanac even caught the felonious eye of criminals. In 1942, the FBI found the almanac in the pocket of a German spy who had landed on Long Island, New York. The editor at the time, Robb Sagendorph, had to convince the government that the New Hampshirederived book was not indirectly supplying information to the enemy with its trustworthy weather forecasts.
Today, The Old Farmer’s Almanac can be found anywhere that books and magazines are sold, (grocery/hardware stores, gardening centers, etc.) and is also readily available at the almanac store in Dublin, New Hampshire, or online at almanac.com. Subscribers to the almanac rack up a yearly number of 75,000, including a dedicated group of farmers, ranchers, and small-space gardeners.
Along with its own rich and busy history, The Old Farmer’s Almanac continues to serve as documentation of the past and a useful glimpse into the future for a wide variety of readers. “We have a very loyal and inclusive audience,” says Sarah. “With the addition of The Old Farmer’s Almanac for Kids, we have broadened our [readership].” Who knows what else the future holds for the almanac … as far we at Edible know, it’s only predicting the weather.