In case you were running out of things to fret about: Much of the eastern United States is facing a major shortage of pumpkins. From the Midwest to the Atlantic seaboard, and all the way up into Canada, severe weather, disease, and other factors have combined to make this a terrible year for pumpkin-picking. Here, a guide to the "Great Pumpkin Shortage":
What exactly caused this year's pumpkin shortage?
Three main factors: First, Heavy rains in spring and early summer — and subsequent flooding — delayed the planting season for some pumpkin farmers. Second, an outbreak of a fungus called phytophthora that thrives in wet conditions wiped out many pumpkin patches. Finally, Hurricane Irene dealt a pivotal blow to pumpkin growers: One farmer in upstate New York "saw his entire crop, about 15,000 to 20,000 pumpkins, washed into Lake Champlain," says the Associated Press.
Will unscrupulous people start hoarding pumpkins?
It’s possible: "Pumpkin profiteering" has been reported in some areas, and wholesale prices have doubled, according to farmers in the Northeast. As a result, consumers will find pumpkins more expensive. The shortage could have a serious financial impact on farmers who depend on late crops like pumpkins, and on those who run tourist attractions built around pumpkin-picking.
What should consumers do?
First, "get your pumpkins early," says Long Island pumpkin farmer Jim Stakey. But if you can't find one, try carving an "altern-o-lantern" this Halloween: Squash-o-lanterns, watermelon-o-lanterns, and apple-o-lanterns are all viable options, says Edith Zimmerman at The Hairpin.