Growing up on a West Virginian farm gave Payne ample authority to create a Harvard-tailored guide to planting and pig-keeping, in the form of Poor Ansel’s Almanack.
This fall, Payne and his friends posted messages to the Quincy House open list requesting copper tubing and 30-gallon washtubs in the hopes of building a moonshine distillery in their bathroom. Their attempt at bootlegging fell through, but Payne found another way to bring 18th-century agrarian practices to Quincy Houe.
“I decided that I would be cute and couch those requests in an anachronistic farm newsletter,” he says. Thus began Poor Ansel’s Almanack: A Collection, Proper to the Commonwealth, of Local Wisdom, Legend, and Helpful Factualities.
“Some people were really into it." . Some people said, ‘We don’t want to hear about the best time to plant tomatoes!’"Payne says. "But they were the minority."
With the help of his friend Savanna M. Lyons, Payne decided to begin publication of a monthly paper version of the Almanack, which will be distributed through the suitably old-fashioned U.S. Postal Service. “I hope there’s some gossip about our classmates and house masters and stuff like that,”Payne says of the first issue. “And since it’s getting on to planting season, there will be a lot of farm advice that people won’t actually need."
Though such material may seem irrelevant to Harvard students more concerned with papers than planting, Payne firmly believes that almanacs have a place in today’s society.
“[Modern] almanacs are just bullshit,” he scoffs. “They’re full of ridiculous flower-bulb ads, and they’re like six dollars apiece. But if you go back and read [the original almanacs], they’re just brilliant. Think about the ’zine culture today‚ that’s what these were, except that they’re actually useful. They were the quintessential democratic medium of the day.”