Grace Ying
Grace Ying
High School Third Place Winner - 2012 Food Engineering Essay Contest
Tallahassee, Florida
Behind the Applesauce

As a newer generation who grew up in the modern age of supermarkets teeming with packaged foods grown and shipped thousands of miles away, it's difficult to imagine a time when food was mostly homegrown, homemade, or local. All of this was made possible by engineering. Applesauce, a delicious and quite popular packaged snack for students, is bought simply by driving to a supermarket and plucking it off the shelf, packaged and ready to eat. Behind the plastic lid and simplistic container of applesauce lies a complicated process that few think about - the growing of apples, the harvesting of apples, the shipment of the apples to the factories for peeling and making of the actual applesauce, the packaging of the applesauce, and finally the transportation of the applesauce to your local market. Engineering has made all this possible.

The neat little container of applesauce all stems back to apple orchards. Agricultural engineers have helped developed the planting and growing of crops such as apples through numerous methods. Before even planting the apples in the apple orchards, engineers are often involved in testing the soil, making a soil profile and determining whether the climate and soil is fit for growing an apple orchard. Engineering is also incorporated in the actual apple seeds. Genetic engineers have modified apple seeds to be more resilient, less environmentally harmful, and more environmentally friendly. By combining the genetic material of apples with other plants, engineers are in the process of creating new apple varieties with better nutritional values and longer lasting storage time.

As a perennial plant, apples trees live for more than two years and provide orchard owners with apples for an extended amount of time with only watering, fertilizing, and pruning necessary to care for the apple trees. With mechanical engineering, we now have complex and extensive irrigation systems and machines that can effectively water the sprawling land that an orchard extends. Pruning is also a process necessary to maintain and care for apple trees, Due to the large impact that proper pruning has on apple tree health, growth, and apple quality as well as quantity, the labor intensive process is usually manual with shears, pruners, and saws. Although mechanical engineering has assisted the process through developing new designs for shears in attempting to use the cheapest materials for the safest possible shears that are able to reach the upper heights of apple trees while providing accuracy in the pruning process, they are continuing to reduce the amount of human labor involved.

A few generations ago, all these apple trees would have had to be harvested by hand, one by one, by laborers. Since then, electrical and mechanical engineers have designed numerous harvesting machines in order to make the process much more efficient, less costly, and less labor intensive. The development and creation of such machines have evolved from simple tree shaking machines that has a mechanical head that grasps the trunk of the tree and shakes it to knock down the apples, into harvesters with a head that actually picks the apple and dispenses it into the machine for cleaning. The Tuthill Mk. 2 Centipede Harvester is an example of such an engineered harvester, undoubtedly involving at least electrical engineers and mechanical engineers in designing such a large machine while ensuring sufficient power. Mechanical engineers most likely drew up possible plans and designs to carry out the function of harvesting apples as efficiently and effectively as possible - attempting to design a machine that would be as thorough as a human picker, but much quicker and efficient. Electrical engineers and environmental engineers may be consulted to ensure an efficient power system and a sustainable machine.

Despite the massive progress already achieved by these harvesting machines, engineers are continuing to innovate the design for even higher efficiency at lower costs. While machines are much more efficient than humans and require less labor, they are unable to harvest the apples as extensively, often decreasing profits for apple orchard owners as apples are left unharvested on trees. Engineers are striving to design new machines for harvesting, one with a platform for human pickers to stand on complete in order to reduce the time and energy involved in climbing ladders up and down trees to reach all the apples while still preserving the effectiveness of human pickers. While mechanical engineers are working for better designs, electrical engineers are redesigning for models that would use less electricity for more power, and environmental engineers are researching and considering possibilities for designed machines to negatively impact the environment as little possible. Such massive harvesting machines compress the soil they roll over, reducing the porosity and permeability of the sandy soil that apple trees require and slowing down the percolation of water to apple tree roots. Also, environmental engineers may be involved in designing new methods for preserving the nutrients around the apple tree roots and ensuring certain nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphate or potassium isn't depleted for higher harvesting rates and better quality apples.

After the apples have been grown and harvested, they are then sent to factories where companies manufacture the applesauce. Rather than hand making all the applesauce, machines are again used to clean, chop, cook, sieve, and create the applesauce in massive quantities with minimal human labor for efficiency. In order to prepare the apples, they must be cleaned and chopped. Within a factory, by using machines to clean and chop the apples at large quantities, only a few workers are necessary to supervise the machines, reducing costs. Conveyer belts and other such designs produced from industrial engineering link together the factory process while transporting the materials through the factory to efficiently create the commercial applesauce.

While the exact details of machinery and methods used to create the applesauce are unknown, guarded by companies, their packaging process and transportation process is clear and dependent on engineering as well. The canning of the applesauce into little plastic bowls, designed by material engineers that searched for a container design made of a material that would reduce cost yet be durable, is completed mechanically through machines that show the results of combined mechanical, electrical, and industrial engineers. The design of the packaging and formatting of the labels was most likely completed on a computer made possible by computer engineering. The printing and final packaging was also completed through machines designed to minimize work and increase efficiency of the commercial process.

Finally, the transportation of the applesauce to markets all over the nation is made possible by the technology created by engineers. The roads and bridges designed by civil engineers allow the trucks and vehicles designed by mechanical and electrical engineers able to cross thousands of miles. Aerospace engineers involved in making air travel possible to deliver goods over oceans quickly and safely allow applesauce to be delivered to foreign countries in case you're craving some applesauce while in Europe.

Although you may not consider all the combined efforts of multiple fields of engineering that made the growing, packaging and transportation of your applesauce possible while you eat hurriedly gulp it down during lunch, the mere presence of engineering has made such common trivialities of our modern life possible.