Serving the Southern Illinois University community since 1916.

The Daily Egyptian

Serving the Southern Illinois University community since 1916.

The Daily Egyptian

Serving the Southern Illinois University community since 1916.

The Daily Egyptian

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New event ends Halloween season with fun for a purpose

New+event+ends+Halloween+season+with+fun+for+a+purpose

There’s a new event in southern Illinois that promises an exciting way to end the Halloween season, especially for children.

The first ever Great Southern Illinois Pumpkin Smash will take place on Nov. 4, from 9 a.m. to noon at the SIU Farms Service Center.

Aimee Lemrise, the director of sustainability at SIU, says that the pumpkin smash will provide several creative ways to dispose of the fall decorations, including smashing them with mallets and a tee-ball station. Another activity even has roots that go back centuries.

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Lemrise said, “They’re going to have an atlatl station… It’s kind of like a dart. It’s really long, and then you’d have to throw it at the pumpkin.”

For younger children, there will be activities like pumpkin bowling and painting. Lemrise is also excited about the partnership with the University of Illinois Extension that will provide an on-site pumpkin seed roasting demonstration. Many of the seeds, and pumpkins that will be smashed, will come from the pumpkins that helped make the Pumpkin Glow happen.

In addition to the pumpkin-destroying shenanigans, there will be several opportunities that teach the public too.

“We want to educate people that this is a food source, so they can see the whole big picture about the waste diversion, the food source… we just want to get on all those educational components,” Lemrise said.

Though providing a fun event for the community is a priority, so is sustainability. According to the website for the event, “More than one billion pounds of pumpkins are grown in the U.S. every year.” Illinois in particular is the largest producer of pumpkins nationwide, growing over 650 million pounds of them in 2021.

Because Illinois produces so many pumpkins, it’s not surprising that one of the first pumpkin smashes originated in the state through a nonprofit organization called SCARCE, which stands for School & Community Assistance for Recycling and Composting Education. SCARCE has also played an indirect role in the upcoming southern Illinois pumpkin smash.

“We heard about the opportunity and noticed there wasn’t anything happening like that here in southern Illinois, and we’re all about promoting composting and sustainable practices,” said Angie Kuehl, the recycling coordinator for the Jackson County Health Department. “And so we thought we would partner and provide that opportunity.”

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SCARCE provides resources for several different recycling and composting programs, helping new groups to be able to implement programs in their own communities.

“They have a ton of educational resources on their website, and one of those resources is a document called ‘How to host a pumpkin smash’, so we’ve been utilizing that guide in our planning process,” Kuehl said.

The organizing has gone both smoothly and quickly.

“This group has great synergy… everyone just kind of naturally worked together,” Lemrise said. “It’s really just been about two months of planning.”

Since they started, a main point of pumpkin smashes has been to keep pumpkins from ending up in landfills at the end of the fall.

Nearly 40% of the food the United States produces ends up going to landfills, and pumpkins are no exception; only about 20% are used for food purposes, leaving nearly 80% of them to be used purely as seasonal decor. The vast majority of these pumpkins, having outlasted their usability as festive decor, end up heading to a landfill, which is where the environmental problems begin.

While a landfill is where most garbage ends up going, it isn’t the best place for organic materials. Landfills are sealed from the air, which means that the oxygen needed to break down organic material isn’t available. In an article written for NPR, Halisa Hubbard wrote, “the lack of oxygen in landfills means organic matter like pumpkins produce methane gas, a greenhouse gas that’s harmful for the climate.”

It’s worth noting that many landfills, per EPA requirements, do have a filtration system in place that keeps large amounts of harmful gasses from escaping into the atmosphere, though the entire amount cannot be stopped.

Leeching, or contaminated water seeping out of landfills into the surrounding land, can also be a problem due to potential groundwater and soil contamination as well as soil erosion. Pumpkins can contribute to the problem, especially considering that they are 90% water.

Composting can help provide a solution to these problems, and that’s where events like pumpkin smashes come in.

Kuehl said, “What we’re hoping to do is spark conversations around composting, backyard composting, getting folks together and excited and talking about the opportunities that we can build as a community around composting and southern Illinois.”

By composting, hundreds of tons of pumpkins are kept out of landfills; SCARCE estimates that it has saved over 500 tons of pumpkins from going to landfills. Organizers aren’t certain how much the southern Illinois pumpkin smash will save in its first year, but have a plan in place to find out.

“We’ll be collecting data on how many pumpkins we collect and how much they weigh, and how much material we’re diverting from the landfill,” Kuehl said.

Families and individuals who come to the pumpkin smash will have the opportunity to pulverize their pumpkins and help start the composting process through several activities, including a “rage room,” a room made of hay bales devoted to letting people blow off some steam by obliterating pumpkins.

According to Lemrise, there will be more to do than just demolish pumpkins. A photo booth, run by the American Marketing Association RSO, will be taking photos of families. There may also be a special guest who is synonymous with SIU present.

“It looks like Grey Dawg is going to be there,” Lemrise said.

Months of collaboration and planning have gone into this event, even though destroying a pumpkin alongside Grey Dawg or by dropping it from a scissor lift, another event participants may take part in, takes only a split second. None of it would be possible without volunteers.

Several students at SIU, as well as members of the community, have already given their time for the event. Chaya Rice, a geography and environmental sustainability major, is excited about the event and how it can help teach “others different ways of utilizing ‘old’ foods”, as well as “seeing the involvement of the community.”

“[Lemrise] told me about the event and there was no way I’d turn it down,” Rice said.

According to Lemrise, volunteers working at the event will also receive credit towards earning an environmental ambassador award.

“Anyone who works up to 30 hours of environmental service work, they track their hours through the office of student engagement. And then around our Green Fund ceremony in April… the chancellor presents them with environmental ambassador awards,” Lemrise said.

Through the pumpkin smash, and other events like it, SIU has a chance to increase their sustainability rating, obtained through AASHE, the Associate for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education.

“We’re currently a silver institution,” Lemrise said. “When we do these public engagement events, drawing in and bringing attention to composting and waste diversion efforts, and recycling and conservation… We take all of that information and report it to AASHE.”

“Our goal is to get a gold… the more we report, the more we do, the better.

Staff reporter Ryan Grieser can be reached at [email protected]. To stay up to date on all of your southern Illinois news, follow the Daily Egyptian on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter/X.

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