You Mean We DON’T Have Unlimited Pumpkins?!
By Emily Powell
For those urban gardening enthusiasts who take the spirit of autumn to a revolutionary level and home-grow pumpkins for carving and baking, good on ya. As for the rest of us, we find our potential Jack-o-lanterns at the local pumpkin patch or grocery store. This year, however, the tables have turned. Climate change has altered weather patterns across the globe, including the skies of the American Midwest, where the nation’s largest producers of pumpkins work their spooky magic in the area’s fertile soil. These altered weather patterns include heavy rains early in the growing season, which discouraged roots from establishing themselves in deep soil, preventing resilience in drier parts of the summer and fall; heavy rains also mean that bacteria and disease spread easily from crop to crop. As a result of these changes, which have occurred sporadically and intensely in recent history (the most recent being 2009), we have almost half of the pumpkin crop that is normally available. While this is not to affect Halloween availability of pumpkins, the stock of canned and fresh pumpkins is likely to dwindle by Thanksgiving and run out before the New Year. Meaning, essentially, that pumpkin pie at the Easter table is a no-go.
Food shortages like these bring the reality of our dependence on the earth’s natural supporting and regulating services back to mind. In our world of industrialized agriculture, it’s common for us to falsely believe that produce and products from all seasons and all climates will always be at our fingertips. If we want asparagus for a recipe, we can (mostly) just hop in our car for a quick trip to the grocery store to purchase some stalks of the spring season vegetable, regardless of the time of year. How weird is that? In the case of this pumpkin shortage, a minor panic may ensue. Since we have been granted the privilege of enjoying copious and seemingly unlimited amounts of produce, especially ornamental and symbolic products like the pumpkin, when we experience the realization that natural systems of the earth control the ability of farmers to provide quotas of produce, we suffer a reality check that may be damaging to our anthropocentric ego.
Urban gardening brings an awareness back to our inability to completely control how and when the earth bears certain fruit. Sure, we can ship pumpkins in from the Pacific Northwest or China or India, supporting our already globalized food system, but would it not be more sustainable to simply admit and embrace that Mother Nature is simply sick of us making pumpkin pie? Coddling ourselves in our traditions and comfortable standard of living, including expecting unlimited roses at Valentine’s Day, hamburgers at Memorial Day, pumpkins on Halloween and turkeys on Thanksgiving, might be setting ourselves up for disappointment. There is a good chance that these visible products of our exploitation of land and water resources cannot be sustained through the trials of the current path of climate change. The earth’s systems are evolving in the ways they manifest themselves (e.g. extreme drought and extreme weather): We cannot afford to ignore the need for us to evolve as well. Although it will upset tradition, maybe we should learn not to expect Jack-o-lanterns at every doorstep and pumpkin pies on every Thanksgiving table. Maybe we should expect to rely less on our industrial food system and more on the production abilities of our local area. If we can expect to thrive this way, we will be encouraging our own traditions’ resilience through the trying phases of climate change.
Emily Powell’s exuberant passion for sustainability and sustainable nutrition stems from her everlasting love for the outdoors, people, dirt, and broccoli. As an undergraduate in the School of Sustainability at Arizona State University, Emily is working towards becoming a spokesperson for everyday sustainable food and lifestyle choices, including decisions on what foods you buy, where you buy them, and how you make the most of foods’ energy. Leveraging communication through writing, Emily has been recognized in competitions such as the DuPont Challenge and the Apprentice Ecologist Initiative for her essays on sustainability issues and initiatives, including Honeybee Colony Collapse Disorder and community gardens in elementary schools. Emily aspires to utilize relationships with other academic disciplines to plant the seeds of sustainability and nutrition principles in the young adults of her generation. She plans to earn her Registered Dietician credential and work either on the community or personalized sustainable nutrition level.