Post Halloween Pumpkins

Until I had a farm and livestock, I never really thought about the degree to which pumpkins go under-utilized in this country. Pumpkins are ubiquitous in October, but chiefly as decorations. Not just the ones that are carved into Jack-O-Lanterns, but the ones that are put out intact on porches and storefronts to sit like giant orange balls. I used to think these kinds of displays were a nice artistic contribution to the fall/harvest mood. Now I see them and think, “Look at all those great pumpkins, going to waste.”

New York City never lets itself be outdone in anything. So I guess it didn’t surprise me when I was recently visiting there on a business trip and saw this:

over and over again, as I walked down 34th Street. Dozens of pumpkins and other fall squashes, filling every one of the large rectangular planter beds that separate the sidewalk from the roadway. There I was, in the shadow of the Empire State Building, dressed in a jacket and tie, unable to think of anything but how many weeks my sheep and goats and poultry would be able to feast on all of these “decorations.”

Will these things be left out until they rot? Will the sanitation department eventually throw them into a trash truck with the rest of the city’s garbage? Or will an enterprising farmer be allowed to take them home to feed to his animals? He’d need a dump truck to carry all of them; there were many many more planters filled with pumpkins all along 34th Street. I wish I knew who in NYC government to contact with these questions, because I’m genuinely curious as to the fate of all this good livestock fodder.

Back here in rural Michigan, the answers are much easier to find. A mile or two from us, there’s a farmer who grows an enormous garden and sells produce from a roadside stand. The Yeoman Farm Children and I stop by there nearly every day in the summer, riding our tandem bicycle, and chat with them as we load up our rack pack with summer squash, zucchini, tomatoes, green beans, and everything else our own garden may be lagging in production of. They do not have any livestock on their farm, but they know we do. Not wanting anything to go to waste, they came out and told us we should take all of their unsold pumpkins remaining after Halloween. For free. Ditto — during the summer — any tomatoes or other produce that are too blemished to sell. We should come on over with buckets and help ourselves.

We were naturally very grateful for this offer, and this morning I was finally able to swing by their place. They had several enormous pumpkins left, and I loaded all of them into the back of our minivan. They’re wonderful pumpkins, totally intact, but admittedly not very attractively shaped for carving or display.

But who cares? Certainly not our sheep. Dot (our leader ewe) saw me unloading these treasures from the van, and was the first of the flock to make a beeline for the gate. Note the geese, preparing to swoop in and poach some of the treat.
Within minutes, the whole flock had followed Dot’s lead. I think the first pumpkin vanished in under five minutes.
I’ve packed the rest of them into the barn, and will smash one per day until they’re all gone. Too bad there were only five.
Next time I go to NYC in the fall, maybe I’ll take a dump truck instead of an airplane.

Grandpa’s Ship

My grandfather was a career Naval officer, enlisting in the late 1920s and then serving for much of his adult life. He was at Pearl Harbor on the day of the attack, and our family still has a box with artifacts from it.

After World War II, he served for quite some time on the aircraft carrier USS Oriskany. A couple of years ago, that ship was sunk off the coast of Florida, to create an artificial reef. I remember being saddened to hear that his ship was going to the bottom of the ocean — but the more I thought about it, the better of an idea it seemed. Rather than rusting away in a shipyard, or being cut up for scrap, the vessel would provide a refuge for fish and a fascinating place for divers to explore.

The NY Times is up today with a story about the “Great Carrier Reef,” two years later. It includes some remarkable photographs, and even a video from one dive.

“There’s definitely an enthusiasm for this,” said Glen Clark of the Navy’s Inactive Ships Program. “There’s actually more interest than we have ships.”

The potential economic benefits of sinking ships for reefs are significant. A report from the University of Western Florida says that the sinking of the Oriskany enerated nearly $4 million for Pensacola and Escambia County in 2007.


“It put Pensacola on the map as a diving spot,” said Jim Phillips, co-owner of MBT Divers in Pensacola. All three of Pensacola’s dive shops are reporting brisk business related to the Oriskany, with 4,200 dive trips to the wreck reported in 2007.

And the story provides another interesting detail that I had not been aware of:

The ship has become a big lure for military buffs, as well, including veterans who once served on the ship. But one veteran who has not dived the Oriskany yet is Senator John McCain, whose final bombing mission left the carrier on Oct. 26, 1967. During that mission, he was shot down and became a prisoner of war for six years.

My grandfather was a big supporter of John McCain back in 2000, in large part because of the Navy connection. But I never knew that they had served on the same ship (albeit separated by several years — Grandpa had retired long before McCain would have been on the Oriskany). Grandpa didn’t live long enough to see the sinking of the Oriskany, but I have no doubt that he’s very pleased as he looks on and sees the use that it’s being put to. And that he’s pulling for John McCain even now.