Pumpkins can fly, but should they be made to do so? About this time every year a local farm market hauls out what it calls the Pumpkinator to hurtle its surplus squash skyward. Last weekend I saw the spectacle firsthand, and, as I watched, I felt alternately gleeful and guilty. The gleeful part? One doesn't often see pumpkins traveling at 400 miles per hour to clear a quarter of a mile so lickety-split. Also, the Pumpkinator is itself beguiling.

Painted on one side is a Jack O'Lantern sporting sunglasses and a Rambo-style ammo belt, and, despite his lack of arms or hands, he holds a sawed-off shotgun to boot. A horn blast announces each pumpkin launch, and one of the farmers shoots the compressed-air cannon a few times every half hour. Finally, near the end of each round of firing, the cannon's barrel is aimed at a junked, compact car parked in the middle of a spent cornfield. Flying pumpkins have crashed through the car's windows, and one even tore off the driver's side door. The destruction is strangely satisfying, and spectators routinely pick their way around dried corn stalks to get a better look.

As to my guilt, the eco-Puritan in me tsk-tsks that, while people are starving in some parts of the world, here we were, shooting perfectly good food into the air for our own amusement. Also troubling, the noisy, smoky contraption gobbles diesel fuel in order to forcefully propel each pumpkin through its barrel. That, too, seems wasteful. Still, I'd rather not be utterly humorless.

As it happens, there are many pumpkin chunkin' practitioners whose chunking is actually pretty green. And, certainly, even the Pumpkinator has its merits. For starters, scores of children have come to watch it in action, and, while visiting the small farm and market, they also get the opportunity to see where and how food is grown. What's more, they -- and the adults accompanying them -- are also encouraged to taste fresh apples, local honey, and just-baked bread. Future gardeners and slow-foodies in the making? Perhaps. 

Story by Susan Brackney. This article originally appeared in Plenty in October 2008.

Copyright Environ Press 2008.