The sixth volume of this annual work, the almanac tracks more than just the seasonal changes. It balances the practical and the emotional, for an entirely different look at the daily lives of farmers.
For more than 200 years, the Old Farmer’s Almanac has stood as a guidepost for farmers, gardeners and hobbyists. It’s the oldest continuously published periodical in North America. A record of years past, farmers can consult the almanac to find temperature and rainfall predictions, tide and sunrise patterns, advice and folklore and use the information to make an educated guess to help their own crops along.
But those guideposts are changing. With the climate warming, advice from years past has limited utility in the present.
That’s where the New Farmer’s Almanac comes in.
The new collection comes from Greenhorns, a publishing and media company focused on agroecology and restoration. The Old Farmer’s Almanac is still going strong, and this new collection, while not affiliated with the traditional almanac, pays homage to it. In 12 chapters, broken up by month, the almanac balances practical advice with emotional reflections. There are essays and how-to guides, interviews and poems, photographs and even cartoons. Each submitted work is penned by a farmer or gardener, and each takes a look at that central problem: Within a warming world, what can you do? Where do you turn to for advice?
“The subtitle of the book is ‘Adjustments and Accommodations’. We’re thinking a lot about the kind of small, slow and steady ways that each of us can have an impact,” says Renee Rhodes, commissioning editor. “A big part of this year’s theme had to do with recognizing the ways in which we do have agency, despite being in a moment of stacked crises.”
That look at agency and individual action is expressed in hundreds of different ways throughout the compendium. Don Tipping’s article on dry farming in the Pacific Northwest explores shifting ways of approaching a landscape he’s worked with for decades. Madeleine Granath’s poem, On Farming, begins with the line “relinquishing control, a lifestyle.” Danielle Walczak’s essay explores the beauty in routine. There are the writers who turned to practical, technical missives on adapting skills, and there are the writers who explored their own mindset shift, as they got creative and responsive in relation to their land.
As the commissioning editor, Rhodes sifted through all the works to find the right balance, ensuring that everything would meld nicely together. Each month gets its own mini-theme; May’s is “Stress and Surrender,” while February’s was “Causeway.” Those mini-themes helped Rhodes focus while still aiming for work that cascaded in sequence. “It was a movement between tones, so that you have the poetic balancing out the scientific, and things segue into each other. A rain theme can evolve into a soil theme, which can evolve into the long history of Indigenous land ethics, and evolve into a thinking about alternative architectures,” says Rhodes.
While there is a pervasive pop-culture archetype of the farmer as practical, unsentimental and occasionally even rigid, these submissions showcase an entirely different side to farming and tending land. “There’s an artistry to [farming], and there’s a culture and history of art and writing and literature and poetry as found in land work,” says Rhodes. “One of the goals of it is to share how huge of a cultural contribution agriculture is to our world, and that it does go beyond the technical and the practical.”
The works also act as a community-building effort. That feeling of agency—both lost and gained—reminds many farmers that they aren’t alone. “When people tell us how the book lands, there’s an appreciation for hearing from this many farmers in one place, because, so often, folks are working in a more isolated way,” says Rhodes. “Doing land work is not hypothetical. It’s very tangible. Creating room in that reality for the spirit and the culture-making…we create a space of belonging.”
This is not a book filled with solutions to the new and varied problems that farmers face. But it is a record, an almanac, on the ways in which farmers tinker and try and shift their thinking. It’s an individual practice, but, ultimately, it works as part of a community, evolving together. In the editor’s note, Rhodes writes that farmers and landworkers are constantly adjusting their work to new circumstances. “Those who are attuned to the baseline, who are nimble in response, humble in their pace and calm in a present of constant change and uncertainty are the skilled workers we need in this moment.”
The statement “With the climate warming, advice from years past has limited utility in the present” is quite nearsighted. Consider the words of Peter Frankopan, professor of global history at Oxford University, “As a historian, I know that the best way to address complex problems is to look back in time.” He says further, “The history of the earth is a history of large scale transformations.”
The clues we need to intelligently deal with today’s epic challenges lie in our collective history. Neglecting our lessons invites fear and foster’s inappropriate and costly response.