Well, at least Steve Geddes of Boscawen, New Hampshire got more than his allotted 15 minutes of fame.
For one whole day Geddes was the world's Greatest Pumpkin-grower, ever, when his 1,843.5 pound giant broke the previous world record by 25 pounds while taking home the first place "Orange Ribbon" at the Granite State's annual Deerfield Fair last week.
Fame proved fleeting, however, as Geddes' record fell the very next day when Ron Wallace of Green, Rhode Island shattered Geddes' mark and became the very first person to grow a one-ton pumpkin -- "the largest fruit ever grown," as Billy Baker reports in Saturday's Boston Globe.
There was a lot of buzz about Wallace's giant pumpkin -- "The Freak II" -- heading into the Topsfield Fair in Massachusetts, a venue Baker describes as "the Super Bowl of pumpkin weigh-offs."
Tensions in Topsfield were running high, reports Baker, as handlers moved the gigantic gourd into position on the scale, removed the straps and watched as the digital readout "danced around the 2,000-pound mark" before igniting pandemonium in the room as the scale finally settled on 2,009.
"Ron Wallace is back! Ron Wallace is back! Ron Wallace is back!" the proud farmer shouted again and again as his world record-shattering accomplishment began to sink in - along with the $15,000 in prize money he'd be taking home.
Now, if anyone is entitled to boast "I Did Build It!" you'd have to put farmers at the top of the list. Who better deserves the title of solo artist or independent entrepreneur than the guy who plants his seeds in the ground one by one, anxiously watches the weather day by day, then races his crop to harvest before the season or markets turn against him?
Well, it ain't so. As Baker reports, not even a celebrity farmer like Ron Wallace deserves sole credit for a one-ton piece of fruit since it turns out it takes a whole village to grow a giant pumpkin.
As Baker notes, the 1,000-pound pumpkin barrier wasn't broken until the year 2000 and the idea that growers would double that record in just over a decade, or at all, was ruled out by most experts who thought the pumpkin's weight limit had already been reached. Bigger than that, the experts said, and there didn't seem to be any way a pumpkin could support itself structurally, reports Baker.
So how could it be that just 12 years later we'd find ourselves looking at the 1,000-pound Great Pumpkin barrier with the same wry bemusement aerospace engineers today look back at those who once called the 700-mile per hour sound barrier "a demon that lived in the air" now that front-line jet fighters routinely exceed Mach-3 and the retired Space Shuttle once reached speeds of more than Mach-20.
The answer, says Baker, is the Internet. The chief difference between the 1,000-pound barrier and the 2,000-pound barrier, says Baker, is that with the Internet growers as a group simply got better at growing bigger and bigger pumpkins since they were able to share their mistakes -- and their secrets -- since half the fun of growing giant pumpkins is bragging about how you did it.
As a result, writes Baker, pumpkin weights have raced forward every year with world records falling almost as often. Six years ago at the Topsfield Fair, Wallace was the first to break the 1,500-pound mark. The very next year nine people did it, says Baker. "They pushed. They pollinated earlier and took risks."
By sharing information and ideas -- for free -- across the Internet, these farmers practiced the sort of communal, group behavior that would be instantly recognizable to anyone who blogs at, say, Open Salon.
But farmers (and bloggers) are also engaged in a sort of "open sourcing" that "The World is Flat" globalization guru Thomas Friedman of the New York Times has identified as one of the top ten "flatteners" that make the world economy more interconnected.
Open sourcing of software codes, like Apache, which powers about two-thirds of websites in the world, allows improvements to be made by anyone with something to contribute, which is then shared with millions of others who are able to download the software for free.
Not everyone is happy with open-sourcing. Just ask reporters who've lost print jobs to bloggers. Or how about Microsoft monarch Bill Gates. "You need capitalism to drive innovation," Gates told Friedman. "To have a movement that says innovation does not deserve an economic reward is contrary to where the world is going. When I talk to Chinese, they dream of starting a company. They are not thinking 'I will be a barber during the day and do free software at night.' When you have a security crisis in your software system you don't want to say: 'Where is the guy at the barbershop?
Where's my profit. Spoken like a true capitalist.
Another way of thinking about the benefits of open-sourcing in either software development or pumpkin-growing is to note that equality itself has economic benefits.
Typically when we talk about economic or political equality it is in the abstract or in conjunction with some touchy-feely value like "fairness" or "justice" that hard-headed, bottom-line kind of conservatives can easily dismiss as just another example of wooly-headed liberal utopianism.
However, the 2008 financial collapse offered an opportunity to rethink the fundamentals of a free market capitalist system that has been in the thrall of laissez faire supply-side ideology for the better part of the last 30 years. And as Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, among others, has been arguing with greater urgency and effectiveness, if we want to fix our broken economy we must first focus on boosting demand. And to do that we must get serious about addressing economic inequality.
For years now, Fox News and Rush Limbaugh have been frightening small children with visions of burning cities and people pushing wheel barrels filled with devalued currency through deserted streets to buy loaves of bread. But the truth is "no large economy has ever recovered from serious recession through austerity," said Stiglitz. The much bigger factor holding back our economy, he says, is inequality.
"Any solution to today's problems requires addressing the economy's underlying weakness: a deficiency in aggregate demand," wrote Stiglitz last July in the Los Angeles Times. "Firms won't invest if there is no demand for their products. And one of the key reasons for lack of demand is America's level of inequality - the highest in the advanced countries."
The reason inequality or "redistribution" is more than a moral or philosophical dispute - the battleground conservatives prefer -- is that those at the top spend a much smaller portion of their income than those in the bottom and middle, says Stiglitz. So, when money moves from the bottom and middle to the top as it has been in America in the last dozen years, demand drops.
Even supply-side economists, who emphasize the importance of increasing productivity, should understand the benefits of attacking inequality, wrote Stiglitz, since so much of America's inequality does not come directly from market forces but from what economists call "rent-seeking."
What he means are those activities "directed more at increasing the share of the pie they get rather than increasing the size of the pie itself."
Examples include: Corporate executives taking advantage of deficiencies in corporate governance to seize an increasing share of corporate revenue for themselves at the expense of stakeholders. Or pharmaceutical companies lobbying to prohibit the federal government from using its market power to bargain down drug prices. Or mineral and oil companies that get resources from public lands at below competitive prices.
Some of this rent-seeking is very subtle, says Stiglitz, such as bankruptcy laws that allow companies like AIG to be rescued from bankruptcy with taxpayer bailouts when their bets on risky derivatives failed to pay off but college students who aren't able to discharge their debts when they go bust.
There is a natural tendency in every crisis for people to retreat within themselves or to the safety of some group. That has been especially true for the serial crises America has faced, both foreign and domestic, since 9/11.
But maybe, in the end, the "October Surprise" we've all been waiting for in this year's election will not turn out to be a new war, or economic disruption or unknown skeleton in some candidate's closet. Maybe this election's October Surprise will turn out to be nothing more dramatic than a record-setting, one-ton pumpkin and the lessons this giant piece of fruit can teach us about the success we can have working together instead of on our own.