Domex Superfresh Growers® marked the “launch” of its 2018 Autumn Glory® apple season by lifting an actual Autumn Glory apple into the stratosphere aboard a weather balloon, for a second consecutive year.
Superfresh Growers team members designed and built the balloon system, and this year solicited the participation of students from three local programs focused on science and technology: Wide Hollow Elementary School’s Program for Advanced Learning; third-grade classes from East Valley and Wide Hollow elementary schools; a first grade class from Ahtanum elementary and the Yakima Valley Technological Skills Center (YV-TECH).
Another technology-intensive company, Puget Sound Energy (PSE), inadvertently joined in on the action by recovering the payload, which landed on its Wild Horse Wind and Solar Facility and Renewable Energy Center near Kittitas, WA.
Domex Superfresh Growers CEO Robert Kershaw conceived the project three years ago when he discovered the skills and passion for such an adventure within the company. He is proud that the mission succeeded, but more impressed that the Superfresh Growers team included local students this year.
Kershaw said, “We originally pursued this project to have some fun and generate a little publicity for Autumn Glory apple. Customers and friends really enjoyed watching the video last year, and learning about the creativity and energy of our team. This year the team took it to another level by involving kids in our community who are passionate about science and will someday be leaders in agriculture, which increasingly relies on technology and the people who operate it.”
Information Technology teammates and technology enthusiasts Steve Potter and Jeff Johnston again led the project. Several other Superfresh employees participated in launch and recovery efforts.
For their part, the elementary school students learned about weather balloons and Earth’s complex atmosphere. They decorated the payload box with artwork and photos, and look forward from a recap lesson from Steve and Jeff on the mission. Eli Potter, a student from Wide Hollow, narrated the launch to students in the classrooms via a livestream he set up himself. Students from YV-TECH were on hand to film the balloon release using a drone-mounted camera. The atmosphere was festive.
Johnston reflected, “A large part of what drives these projects is the involvement with schools. We want kids to see what is possible with technology today so they will be inspired to explore the technologies of tomorrow.”
The balloon voyage started in an Autumn Glory apple orchard in Selah, Washington, where an apple was picked and placed onto the balloon’s payload platform. Two cameras documented the 28-mile trip, which reached an altitude of 105,377.3 feet and experienced temperatures of minus 53 degrees Celsius. By design, the balloon ruptured at its apex and drifted to earth under a parachute. Potter, Johnston and Kershaw, who followed the balloon’s path using an elaborate array of HAM radio and satellite equipment, had a much easier time recovering the apple, cameras and vehicle this year. Last year involved a 14-mile hike, much of it in darkness over rough ground. This year the parachute was miraculously spotted drifting to earth by a PSE crew that had just finished inspecting a windmill. It landed a few yards from one of PSE’s service roads. Fortunately, the crew was able to guide Potter, Johnston and Kershaw to the vehicle, but not until equipping them with safety equipment required for the clean energy-generating site!
“As with this balloon, it has been fun to watch the trajectory of Autumn Glory apple,” explains Kershaw. “Demand grew dramatically again last season, and this year continues to compound.” He added playfully, “The balloon adventures certainly play a big role in this, but I hate to break it to the launch team that the apple’s unique flavors -- hints of cinnamon and subtle caramel notes -- are probably what keep consumers and retailers returning for the apple.”
Domex Superfresh Growers owns the Autumn Glory apple and holds the exclusive worldwide rights to grow and sell this unique apple variety. The company describes the Autumn Glory apple as having a "very sweet, firm flesh with hints of cinnamon and subtle notes of caramel". The apple will be available this season from November through April, but as volumes increase, the apple will be available year-round.