Press, Drink, Learn

November 21, 2014

Amanda Nagy

A group of students using a hand-cranked cider press.
Students try out the traditional apple press made by Griff Radulski ’14 at the Adam Joseph Lewis Center for Environmental Studies.
Photo credit: Yvette Chen

When Oberlin students create something of value, they share it with their peers so that others can learn and benefit. This is especially true in the Adam Joseph Lewis Center for Environmental Studies, where everything is a learning tool.

At first glance, the hand-built apple press inside the AJLC looks like a quaint throwback to simpler times. Yet, the motivation behind it tells of the building’s purpose and one recent graduate’s passion for fossil-free farming.

Griff Radulski had very little woodshop experience when he set out to complete a project for the AJLC, which he was deeply invested in as a student, having worked there as a staff member and groundskeeper from 2011 to 2014. “I thought a traditional-looking cider press would fit perfectly with the AJLC's mission of aesthetically pleasing sustainable education,” says Radulski, who majored in biology and graduated in May 2014.

In November, students took it for a spin for the first time, and afterward they enjoyed fresh apple cider. Although the AJLC boasts a small fruit orchard on the grounds, the apple trees didn’t produce a worthwhile crop because of the prolonged freeze in winter 2014. They turned to local fruit farms instead.

Radulski says he took a woodshop class in middle school, but since that time he had not used any power tools. He had the full support of Sean Hayes, Oberlin’s director of sustainability, and Edward Fuquay, technical supervisor in the art department’s woodshop. “Ed taught me how to do everything and helped with some of the tricky work, like the early table-sawing. Sean encouraged me to develop my skills and helped me refine the design.” Part of that design was conceived by Ian Burns ’10, who was the sustainability technology research fellow for 2013-14.

The press is built mostly of reclaimed lumber. The legs are old fence posts that Radulski acquired from Old School Salvage in Cleveland; he also found the screw and handle there. The rest is hard maple from a local sawmill. Radulski says he bought it unfinished, which is much less expensive and not hard to work with. The slats of the basket and other parts of the press came from a piece of warped butcher block countertop that was sold on Craigslist.

As students found during their trial cider press, the machine is functional, but not entirely convenient. That is because it lacks a flywheel and gearing. “This means the grinder has to be turned by hand without any help from inertia,” Radulski explains. He intends to bring a flywheel and install it during an upcoming visit in December. “It should be much more efficient that way.”

The cider press wasn’t Radulski’s only woodworking project. He also built a chicken tractor—a portable coop on wheels—for the egg-laying hens that are cared for year-round on the AJLC grounds. (The eggs, as well as the produce grown in the organic garden, are given to Oberlin Community Services.)

Radulski, who is originally from Connecticut, is continuing his education by researching different farms and communities throughout Virginia. His goal is to become a fossil-free farmer. “I believe that the best way to make that work—in fact, the best way to make anything work—is to do it cooperatively. So I'm visiting different farms and communities to see what success looks like. Next year I hope to land an internship working with draft animals. Eventually, I would like to join or cofound a fossil-fuel-free community.”

Caroline Summa, a third-year environmental studies major working in the AJLC, oversaw the first cider pressing. “I’d love to do workshops in the future. There are so many projects and so much potential for learning [at the AJLC]. I think people could get really excited about this. Who doesn’t love apple cider?”

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