UACES Facebook Club fundraiser provides students first-hand experience in commercial food processing
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Club fundraiser provides students first-hand experience in commercial food processing

Group transforms 2,000 pounds of apples into a full food processing learning experience.

By Mary Hightower
U of A System Division of Agriculture

Oct. 10, 2022 

Fast facts

  • Food Science Club members get real-world experience
  • Full day to turn apples into apple butter
  • Order by calling 479-575-4605 to pick up at food science office

(680 words)

(Newsrooms: With art)

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — At the Arkansas Food Innovation Center, the arrival of fall is announced by the sweet aroma of apples, cinnamon and allspice as students cook up a ton of apple butter, a Food Science Club fundraiser that has been going on for nearly three decades.

Student using an apple crusher.
FIRST STEPS — Food science student feeding apples into the first step of a daylong process to make apple butter (U of A System Division of Agriculture image by Fred Miller)

“As part of the Food Science Club, I helped with apple butter production in 1990,” said Renee Threlfall, who at the time, was working on her master’s degree. Today, she’s a research scientist in enology and viticulture for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, having also earned a Ph.D. at the University of Arkansas in food science. “Our professors encouraged students to be active in the club.”

This is no small activity. The apples have to be crushed and steamed, and the seed and peels removed in a finisher.  Finally, the apple puree is cooked, bottled, labeled and sold.

John Swenson, manager of the food innovation center, and Threlfall help with the effort for students of the Dale Bumpers College Agricultural, Food and Life Sciences.

“From 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., we turn 2,000 pounds of apples into about 2,000 labeled jars in one day,” Threlfall. “There seven different operations happening. We’re moving 50-pound bags of sugar. It’s gooey, hot and steamy work. I can’t move Friday night.

Making Apple Butter
2,000 POUNDS — Food science students make apple butter from 2,000 pounds of fruit in the Arkansas Food Innovation Center. (U of A System Division of Agriculture photo by Fred Miller)

“Nothing smells better than to kick off fall, than apple butter,” she said.

“Truly, this is more than a fundraiser. It is an opportunity for students to experience production of a commercial food product from the fresh apples to apple butter in a labeled jar,” Threlfall said.

This year’s Apple Butter Bash, as the club calls it, was Oct. 7.

Ordering opened Oct,10. To order apple butter, call the food science department at  479 575-4605 and orders must be picked up at the department, cash or checks only. Each jar is $5 and a case of 12 jars is $50.

Taylor Brandt, the Food Science Club president, said the club expected to raise $4,000, which would go to fund scholarships, student educational events and round tables with local food companies to provide students information on internships and job opportunities.

Brandt, from Centerton, chose food science as a major to make a difference. The senior also has minors in agribusiness and horticulture.

“How can I make healthy food affordable and sustainable for the consumer and farmer?” he said. “I got into food science because I wanted to make a change in the U.S. food system working to get health food into the hands of all socioeconomic populations.”

A sense of belonging

Jeyam Subbiah, food science department head, was helping with prep work the day before along with a handful of students.

“The biggest benefit is for the students to go through the manufacturing and project management process of procuring apples from local farmers, ordering ingredients, getting jars, making apple butter, labeling, and marketing,” he said. “The students get to see a full picture of food manufacturing, which benefits them tremendously in their coursework.”

As faculty and students work elbow to elbow, “participating students feel a belonging to the department,” Subbiah said.

Their workplace for the day, the Arkansas Food Innovation Center, was established in 2013 as part of the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station to help food entrepreneurs. The center provides scientific knowledge, technical expertise, state-of-the-art facilities, and training opportunities to help launch new food processing businesses. The experiment station is the research arm of the Division of Agriculture.

John Aselage, of A&A Orchards in Washington County, has donated hundreds of pounds of golden delicious and Mutsu apples to the club over the years. He’d become acquainted with the food science department first through his work at Gerber Foods; and later as an orchard owner who has used the Arkansas Food Innovation Center to process juice or turn fruit “seconds” into apple chips or sliced frozen peaches. Seconds are fruits that may have superficial imperfections, but would be perfectly good processed for other uses.

His involvement in a pollinator management program “produces a significant amount of seconds,” Asledge said. “We don’t spray anything that would kill bees.”

To learn about extension programs in Arkansas, contact your local Cooperative Extension Service agent or visit Follow us on Twitter and Instagram at @AR_Extension. To learn more about Division of Agriculture research, visit the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station website: Follow on Twitter at @ArkAgResearch. To learn more about the Division of Agriculture, visit Follow us on Twitter at @AgInArk.

About the Division of Agriculture

The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture’s mission is to strengthen agriculture, communities, and families by connecting trusted research to the adoption of best practices. Through the Agricultural Experiment Station and the Cooperative Extension Service, the Division of Agriculture conducts research and extension work within the nation’s historic land grant education system.

The Division of Agriculture is one of 20 entities within the University of Arkansas System. It has offices in all 75 counties in Arkansas and faculty on five system campuses.

The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture offers all its Extension and Research programs and services without regard to race, color, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, age, disability, marital or veteran status, genetic information, or any other legally protected status, and is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.

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Media contact: Mary Hightower.