Grad students press on with fundraiser — facing an apple shortage

Cornell University — This year’s smaller apple crop didn’t stop College of Agriculture and Life Sciences graduate students from continuing a favorite fall tradition at the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station (NYSAES): using apples from the station’s field trials and breeding programs to press cider, and selling that cider to fund scholarships for high school seniors.

“We use different varieties depending on the year,” said Erik Smith, a graduate student and member of the Student Association of the Geneva Experiment Station (SAGES). “Our main varieties this season were Empire and Crispin. Empires are quite sweet while Crispin tend to be more acidic, so combining the two makes for a nice balance of flavors.”

The student-made cider has become a popular autumn offering at NYSAES, and the students’ biggest concern this year was making enough to meet the demand.

“The unusual spring weather did affect the crop,” said Smith. “There weren’t as many apples, and the quality of those we had to pick from wasn’t what it usually is.” But thanks to donations from the programs of Kerik Cox, associate professor of plant pathology, and Herb Cooley, food science technician, the students stockpiled enough for the year’s pressings.

One thing that sets the students’ cider apart is how fully local it is. Not only are the apples grown and harvested at NYSAES, but some of the varieties used were first developed by Cornell apple breeders. The Empire apple, developed in 1966, is one of 66 Cornell-developed varieties and one of the most successful varieties ever released by the station.

Even the pasteurization process is homegrown. The ultraviolet pasteurization technique the students use was developed at NYSAES by Randy Worobo, associate professor of food microbiology, and his lab members as an alternative to thermal pasteurization…

Seven high school seniors have received awards.

“For me, this is a way of giving back to the community,” said Smith. “Most of us are studying in Geneva for only a short time, but we want to be able to call it home. Since so much of the region’s economy depends on agriculture, we’ve decided to lend a hand to students who’ve chosen agriculture as a career. Plus, our cider tastes great.”

My kind of university. Rooted in the community. Serving humanity.

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