The Greenhorns, which publishes The New Farmer’s Almanac for the Year 2013, was founded in 2007 to support thousands of young farmer’s who are leaving US cities to start small scale organic farms.
An economically precarious occupation, farming is subject to numerous forces over which the farmer has no control. Among others, these include land speculation, unfavorable weather, and constant downward pressure on crop prices. The New Farmer’s Almanac is modeled on the annual Old Farmer’s Almanac, which dates back to revolutionary times. The main difference is the new almanac’s focus on the myriad of networks and resources which have grown up around the food localization movement.
Food localization is the name given to a growing international initiative to improve health and reduce environmental harm by switching from imported and chemically-laden processed foods to fresh, locally grown organic products.
The Old Farmer’s Almanac
Historically the purpose of almanacs has been to provide farmers with working information about the earth’s natural cycles and the art and business of agriculture. The Old Farmer’s Almanac dates back to Ben Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanac, an annual publication he launched, under the name Richard Saunders, in 1732. Franklin’s wasn’t the first and it clearly drew on earlier English and North American almanacs. In pioneer days, the farmer’s almanac was the only reading material in the household other than the Bible and was expected to provide a year’s worth of entertainment.
Like the Old Farmer’s Almanac, the New Farmer’s Almanac offers long range weather forecasts, full moon dates, sunrise and sunset times, best planting dates, crop advice, tides tables, riddles, games, recipes, songs, and folk wisdom. It also includes intriguing reprints of essays, proverbs, and classified ads from historic almanacs.
The Farm Utopia Movement
I found the introduction, which describes America’s farm utopia movement, the most interesting section. Throughout US history, idealists have left the city to set up small scale rural farms in their desire to escape the evils of mercantilist society. Examples include the Shakers in 1780, the Mormon start-up in 1817, the Transcendentalists at Fruitlands in 1840, the Free Love Christian Movement in Oneida in 1858, and Chautauqua, the “righteous rural education scheme,” in 1874. The 19960s also saw a large back-to-the land movement as part of the hippy subculture.
The New Farmer’s Almanac
also contains numerous informational articles on traditional farming skills, such as animal husbandry, pasture design, beekeeping, worm farming, invasive plants, frost management, fermented foods, cheese making, and preparing oil infusions, tinctures, and salves from herbs.
One essay discusses moon planting schedules practiced in Maori and other indigenous societies. These were popularized by Rudolf Steiner (founder of the Waldorf school movement) in the 1920s. The inclusion of full moon dates in every Old Farmer’s Almanac suggests that early New World farmers also planted according to phases of the moon. The modern biointensive farming movement continues to employ moon planting schedules.
Food Policy Councils
The remainder of the book discusses the history of farmer activism, through the 20th century Grange and populist movements, and the modern young farmer and food localization movement. I was most impressed by the chapter on the Food Policy Council Movement. As of May 2012 there were 193 Food Policy Councils, involving over 45 communities and 3,500 participants. Their purpose: to provide communities direct input into where their food comes from and how it’s produced.
There are also features on the history of the organics movement (which started back in 1911), as well as reading lists and links to resources on apprenticeships and agriculture education, business and finance issues, legal advice, sustainable farming techniques, and Community Supported Agriculture schemes (CSAs).