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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 You Act at Starbucks Might Reflect Your Ancestors' Farming Style
Greg Baker, AFP/Getty Images
Greg Baker, AFP/Getty Images

What you do in Starbucks may be linked to more than just your personal coffee preferences. As Science reports, a new study on coffee-shop behavior in different parts of China indicates that farming practices that date back generations still influence how people behave in public. It found that in regions where agriculture traditionally focused on wheat, people were much more likely to be sitting alone at coffee shops compared to people in areas where rice was the dominant crop.

The study, in Science Advances, sounds kind of crazy at first: What my great-grandfather farmed has nothing to do with how I drink my latte, surely. But the design of the study, which involved observing almost 9000 people at 256 coffee shops in six different Chinese cities, is a surprisingly clever way for scientists to observe cultural differences in the real world, researchers who weren't involved in the study told Science.

The study's authors, from the University of Chicago’s business school, Beijing Normal University, and the University of Virginia, wanted to know if the cultural differences of farming wheat and rice persisted through non-farming generations. Rice paddies require twice as much labor as a crop like wheat, as well as massive irrigation systems that would require cooperation between multiple farmers to build and operate. Thomas Talhelm, the study’s lead author, has previously proposed what he calls the "rice theory of culture." That is, the cooperation between neighbors necessary to grow rice led to an interdependent culture that is more collectivist and community-oriented, compared to cultures that grow wheat (like the U.S.), which have developed to be more focused on the individual.

What does this have to do with coffee? The researchers examined how people behave in public in northern China, a wheat-growing region, compared with southern China, a rice-growing region, as a way to examine how cultural differences that arose from agricultural practices still persist in urban life. Across local coffee shops and big chains like Starbucks, they observed that on weekdays, an average 10 percent more people in northern Chinese coffee shops were drinking their coffee alone compared to southern Chinese coffee shops. That number varied by day of the week and time of day, though the researchers didn’t explore why. (Possibly, people just don’t hang out with their friends much in the middle of a Monday morning.) On weekends, the difference was slightly smaller—5 percent—but still significant.

The difference held even when controlling for the type of coffee shop (international chain or local shop), age demographics of the area, and the percentage of workers in the city who are self-employed (and thus, more likely to do their work in a coffee shop).

To further study how regional differences affect behavior, the researchers decided to rearrange some chairs. They went to Starbucks and pushed chairs together in a way that would inconvenience people trying to walk through the cafe, then waited to see how many people would push the chairs out of their way. They found that in a sample of 700 Starbucks customers that were subjected to what they call “the chair trap,” people in wheat-growing areas were more likely to move the chairs out of their way (an individualistic move) while those in rice-growing areas were more likely to adapt themselves to the situation, squeezing their bodies through the tight space without disturbing the chair setup (a collectivist move).

"The fact that these differences appeared among mostly middle-class city people suggests that rice-wheat differences are still alive and well in modern China," the researchers write. This included in Hong Kong, which is located in a rice-growing region but is both wealthier and, due to its time as a British colony, has more Western influence than mainland Chinese cities. In general, the southern cities studied were denser and more developed than Beijing and Shenyang in the north, according to the researchers, and yet economic growth and urbanization didn't seem to make the culture more individualistic.

The researchers have proposed doing a similar study in India, a country that also features a split in wheat- and rice-growing regions. Since China's north-south split means that rice-growing and wheat-growing cities feature significantly different climates, it may be useful to see whether the difference holds in cities in India that share the same climate but have different crops.

[h/t Science]

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How Colorful Stripes of Wildflowers Could Reduce the Need for Pesticides
David McNew/Getty Images
David McNew/Getty Images

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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