Our Kitchen Clock on Eastern Standard Time (Can you tell?) – 4/30/21

Spring forward and fall back.  That is the simple guidance Americans typically use to remember which way to adjust their clocks when Daylight Saving Time begins and ends.  This concept of shifting the time on our clocks during the summer months has been attributed to Benjamin Franklin, although it is my understanding that he never seriously promoted the practice.  He apparently mentioned it as part of a humorous article he wrote in France as a way to save on candle consumption because the sun set earlier on summer evenings than most French citizens accepted as a proper bedtime.  To the contrary, one of Benjamin Franklin’s classic and often cited pearls of wisdom was, “early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.”   It appears that the concept of Daylight Savings Time was suggested by a number of people, but it did not begin to be officially adopted until early in the twentieth century and was not formally regulated by the United States until 1966.

I have heard many Daylight Savings Time supporters casually laud the concept because it makes the days an hour longer in the summertime.  Of course, that’s not true because the days are never longer than 24 hours at any time of the year (unless we decide to change our basic unit measure of time).  All it does is shift the daylight hours one hour earlier or later depending on when it begins or ends.  It borrows an hour of morning daylight to give night owls an extra hour of daylight in the evening.  One reason for the misconception (aside from ignorance) may be because the length of the two days upon which it begins and ends are (incidentally) not 24 hours long.  This is because you end up with a 23-hour day when you turn the clocks one hour ahead in the spring (thereby skipping over the 2:00-3:00 AM hour) and a corresponding 25-hour day when you turn them back in the fall.  That doesn’t actually make those days longer or shorter than 24 hours, it only is a consequence of the fact that you have to lose or repeat an hour on the two days of transition.  Ironically, the only day that actually appears longer than 24 hours is the day in the fall when Daylight Savings Time ends—not when the warmer weather begins, as the off-the-cuff thinking about the transition would imply.  I always find it interesting—if not humorous—to realize how many things people casually believe and say don’t measure up to reality.

I do agree that many people who live in cities and practice a “modern lifestyle” do derive some benefit from the time shift that occurs when Daylight Savings Time begins.  They all get an extended hour of sunlight in the evenings when they are most likely to be active.  Notice I deliberately used the word “active” at the end of that sentence instead of “productive.”  That shifting of daylight hours can indeed create a potential energy conservation benefit if people can refrain from turning on the lights one hour later into their waking day.  However, I would contend most people casually use their indoor lights during the daytime, whether they actually need to or not.  That potential benefit only appears to work for light-activated streetlights because there are more sunlight hours in the summer than in the winter—not because they turn on later in the day during Daylight Savings Time.  However, it is that perceived power conservation effect that became the most often-touted rationale for Daylight Savings Time during the energy crisis in the 1970s.

As for rural people (particularly farmers), Daylight Savings Time has been a controversial issue.  The outdoor work that most farmers have to do every day is typically done during the daylight hours regardless of when they occur.  Even during the 36 years of my life that I lived and worked in the modern society, I was always an early riser—a pattern I had internalized during my childhood and continue to follow today.  When you operate a dairy farm, your milk production can be affected by sudden changes in the milking schedule.  Dairy animals (whether they be cows or goats) produce the greatest volume of milk when they are milked consistently at twelve-hour intervals.  When you start shifting the milking schedule (as occurs when Daylight Savings Time begins and ends), the animals may respond to those changes by withholding their milk or beginning the process of “drying out” or shutting down their milk production.  Obviously, the twice-annual shift in human activity that results from the adoption of Daylight Savings Time is not helpful in maintaining a reliable milking schedule.  Since dairy farmers have an incentive to maintain regular work schedules, they must re-adjust their operating hours to nullify the time shift benefit attributed to Daylight Savings Time.  Where’s the material benefit in that?  It is for this reason that farmers challenge the benefits of Daylight Savings Time.  They are simply becoming a smaller and smaller voice in that debate as the number of farms (and farm families) continues to decline.

In all honesty, Daylight Savings Time bestows a greater daytime schedule benefit to those people living in the eastern limits of their respective time zones than those who live in the western limits.  Why?  Because sunrise times within each time zone naturally occur earlier along the eastern boundary of each time zone than they do along the western boundary—by as much as one hour.  Let me explain this factor in greater detail.  Each standard time zone should ideally be one hour wide, unless it was gerrymandered by the government to keep certain areas in a single time zone (as many countries including the United States do).  At its widest point (at the equator) each time zone should uniformly be about 1,000 miles across and becoming gradually narrower as you approach the two opposing poles—just like the lines of longitude you can see on any globe.  However, several states (including Alabama, Florida, Indiana, Kentucky, and Tennessee in the east) are divided by a meandering gerrymandered time zone boundary.  As a consequence of this geographic manipulation, the Eastern Time Zone is closer to 1,000 miles wide near the northern boundary of our country (where it should be much narrower) and the Central Time Zone boundary is shifted slightly to the west of where it should be if it actually followed the lines of longitude.

When I lived in New Hampshire (near the eastern edge of our time zone) summer sunrise times were very early.  They are considerably later at our retirement farm because I now live much closer to the western boundary.  In fact, the sunrise times we experience at Peeper Pond Farm are roughly 40 minutes later than I typically experienced growing up on our New Hampshire dairy farm on any random day of the year.  Since I usually get up sometime between 4:00 and 5:00 AM, I get fewer morning hours of daylight at our farm than I did during my childhood (where the sun always rises earlier).  Likewise, our sunset times are about 40 minutes later on any given day at Peeper Pond Farm than they were at my childhood home.  Because of this natural time lag effect, I end up having to get up in the dark more often and for more hours than I did as a child, but I get more daylight hours in the evening.

Under these conditions, Daylight Savings Time was more beneficial to our summer work schedule in New Hampshire because the sun would rise so early in the summer that we rarely needed to use lighting in the barn for the daily morning milkings.  However, when we switch on and off Daylight Savings Time here at Peeper Pond Farm, I experience three separate periods when the sunrise occurs after I wake up each year—once around the beginning of October (while still on Daylight Savings Time), a second in November (when we switch back to Eastern Standard Time), and a third in March (when Daylight Savings Time begins).  By not observing Daylight Savings Time each year, we end up with more daylight hours in the morning, which is when I need it for my morning farm work.  I usually go to bed by 8:00 PM, which is also very early by modern society standards, even though the sun does not set in our area until around 9:00 PM on summer nights during Daylight Savings Time.  Therefore, Daylight Savings Time has little material benefit for my farm work schedule here in West Virginia.  When you also consider the negative impact the time change can have on the milk production of my goats, the concept makes little sense to our chosen lifestyle.

It is for these reasons that we decided to stop observing Daylight Savings Time at our farm this year.  We have resumed our milking operation, so we have little incentive or need to change our clocks.  That means, if you visit our farm during Daylight Savings Time, you will see that our clocks are one hour behind most everyone else living in the Eastern Time Zone—as though we are living on Central Daylight Time.  We did set one of our kitchen clocks and our car clock to Eastern Daylight Savings Time as a reminder, so we don’t accidentally show up late to outside appointments, but that’s not as significant a concern for us as the time shift causes for our farm work schedules.  If you talk to other farmers, you may find that we are not unique or alone in our abandonment of Daylight Savings Time.  We’ll catch up with the rest of the Eastern Time Zone again in November, when Daylight Savings Time ends.  The important point to understand from this issue is that the adoption of Daylight Savings Time is another example of how rural lifestyles are different from urban living, where the annual time shift makes a little more sense.  Please don’t argue that we are just bucking the establishment.  I have sound reasons for our decision.  It’s the concept of Daylight Savings Time that lacks integrity and legitimacy. Just don’t expect to find that the days are one hour longer in the cities than they are in the country.