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Massachusetts Man Paddles Eight Miles in a 1200-Pound Pumpkin 'Boat'

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Todd Sandstrum isn’t the first person to transform a large, hollowed-out pumpkin into a seaworthy boat. But according to The Enterprise, the Easton, Massachusetts resident is likely the only individual who’s ever paddled a 1240-pound gourd for eight miles straight.

On Saturday, September 3, Sandstrum made a successful effort to sail his way into the Guinness World Records by attempting a category he’d created himself: “Longest Journey in a Pumpkin Boat (paddling).” In all, the trip only took Sandstrum around four hours, 13 minutes to complete. The feat isn’t officially verified yet—but the daring farmer's chances look pretty good; he traveled eight miles down the Taunton River, from Dighton to Fall River, inside a pumpkin that won a weigh-off at the Marshfield Fair in Marshfield, Massachusetts in August.

This isn’t Sandstrum’s first shot at a world record. Last year, in September 2015, he resolved to steer an 800-pound pumpkin nearly 14 miles down the Taunton River. A sprained ankle forced the sailor to set a more realistic goal, and he ended up striving for nearly eight miles instead. Ultimately, because of the injury, leg cramps, and other logistical difficulties, Sandstrum only completed around four miles. This length was much shorter than he'd aimed for, even though the Guinness organization had set a looser, three-mile guideline for the first-time feat.

This year, Sandstrum wanted to beat his personal goal by paddling even further—and to verify his accomplishment, he ensured the entire thing was captured on video. (Last year's attempt didn't have full video documentation from start to finish, Sandstrum told The Enterprise, so it didn't end up making Guinness.)

According to Modern Farmer, both pumpkin stunts were performed to promote agricultural awareness and education. Sandstrum is a consultant for Crave Food Services, an online service that pairs restaurants with local farmers, and he’s passionate about “getting kids out in the dirt and growing something, and to understand where food comes from,” he told the magazine.

Along with his wife, Genevieve, Sandstrum launched the South Shore Great Pumpkin Challenge five years ago. They give Atlantic Giant pumpkin seeds to Massachusetts school kids, and the institution that grows the most massive gourd earns a $1000 grant that goes toward agricultural education. But Sandstrum wasn’t receiving attention for his efforts, so he decided to attempt his pumpkin stunt to garner more media coverage. Needless to say, it worked.

For more information on Sandstrum’s Guinness Record attempts, visit his website.

[h/t Modern Farmer]

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How Colorful Stripes of Wildflowers Could Reduce the Need for Pesticides
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The UK is emerging as a global leader in the effort to reduce our dependency on pesticides. In November 2017, the nation moved to restrict a class of pesticide that’s deadly to bees, and now 15 farms across the country are testing a natural supplement to the chemicals. As The Guardian reports, colorful strips of wildflowers have been planted among crops as a way to combat pests.

The floral stripes add vibrant pops of color to the farmland, but they’re not there for show. By planting wildflowers in the fields, farmers hope to attract predatory insects like hoverflies, parasitic wasps, and ground beetles. These are exactly the type of bugs farmers want flocking to their property: They don’t eat crops and instead prey on the insects that do. With more natural predators to control pest populations, farmers may be able to reduce their use of harmful pesticides.

The wildflower strategy isn’t entirely new. Farmers already knew that planting borders of wildflowers around their fields is an effective way to lure in good insects, but this method still leaves the center of their farms vulnerable. By dispersing flowers throughout the area, they can broaden the predatory insects’ range.

The 15 farms planted with wildflowers last fall are part of a trial run put together by the Center for Ecology and Hydrology. The organization will monitor the farms for five years to see if the experiment really is a viable alternative to pesticides. In the meantime, farmers will have plenty of room to plant and harvest as usual, with the flower beds only taking up 2 percent of their land. The selected flowers include oxeye daisy, red clover, common knapweed, and wild carrot.

There's a long list of reasons for farmers to phase out chemical pesticides, from the damage they do to local wildlife to the threat they pose to our own health. As lawmakers around the world begin to crack down on them, you can expect to see more natural alternatives gain attention.

[h/t The Guardian]

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Exploding Pants Were a Problem in 1930s New Zealand
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Liars apparently aren’t the only ones who should be concerned with having their pants catch fire. In 1930s New Zealand, a series of events conspired to threaten farmers’ trousers with spontaneous and lethal combustion.

According to Atlas Obscura, the problem stemmed from ragwort, a nuisance weed of European origin that began popping up in New Zealand in the late 1800s. Ragwort, or Jacobaea vulgaris, looks not unlike a dandelion but is far more harmful: Horses and cows react to it as a poison. With the rise of dairy farming in the country and a concurrent rise in grazing cows who knew better than to eat it, ragwort started proliferating.

To respond to the invasive species, farmers took up the Department of Agriculture’s suggestion to use sodium chlorate as an herbicide. It worked, but what the farmers failed to understand was that sodium chlorate was extremely flammable. With a fine mist of the stuff drying on pants and overalls, they were prone to bursting into flames when exposed to heat—like a fireplace where pants might be hung to dry. Among the victims was Richard Buckley, who described just such an incident and witnessed, as one research journal put it, “a string of detonations in his pants.”

Friction could apparently do the trick, too, with farmers on horseback finding that all that jostling could lead to a fiery result. Lighting a match to smoke or just to see in the dark could also be calamitous. A handful of deaths were reported, as these poor laborers were essentially turning themselves into unwitting Molotov cocktails.

Word eventually spread of sodium chlorate’s hazards and it fell out of favor. Ragwort continues to annoy the population of New Zealand.

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