Most vending machines sell chips, candy or drinks. But in the main lobby of Cornell’s Mann Library, there’s a vending machine stocked solely with apples.
For just a dollar, students, faculty and visitors can sink their teeth into one of these refreshing, juicy apples, which are grown at the nearby Cornell Orchards.
“The apples are all from the orchards in Ithaca. So they are about as local as you can get, considering that they're [grown] less than a mile away from the machine itself,” said Andrew Scheldorf, a Cornell grad student and a former Society for Horticulture (SoHo) president.
All proceeds from the machine go to SoHo, an organization for and by Cornell graduate students in horticulture. SoHo members take on the task of picking the apples as well as stocking and maintaining the vending machine.
The vending machine is stocked with at least a couple and as many as nine different apple varieties throughout most of the academic year, though the timing varies slightly based on when the apple harvest starts.
“It's stocked when apples start getting harvested. So depending on what cultivars are available that year, we might be able to stock it when the students return at the end of August, but definitely as it goes into September,” Scheldorf explained. “There's earlier cultivars that will get put in the machine first, and then as the season progresses, other cultivars [are] added.”
“We had Snapdragon in there last fall at some point, and that's a really popular one that was definitely selling out very quickly, so that had to be restocked often,” Brittany Cook grad said. Cook was the SoHo treasurer last year and is currently the webmaster.
The machine itself is quite high-tech; the apples sit in individual compartments so that on the off chance an apple rots, it won’t spoil the whole bunch. The machine also has a built-in refrigeration system.
“It's refrigerated which is really awesome because the apples last longer…. When you want to buy an Apple, it just opens up the entire slot. It doesn't fall out to the bottom, which is nice so it avoids bruising,” said Brittney Chew grad.
Cornell’s apple vending machine has an extensive history, which can be traced back to the mid-1950s. An October 1954 copy of the Cornell Countryman magazine stated that “Even fruit vending has gone modern! The old wooden box which used to hold apples for sale on the honor system, (in the lobby of Plant Science) has been replaced by this ultramodern machine.”
There have been a few different iterations since then, and the machine also migrated from the Plant Science Building to its current location in Mann. Funds for the most recent machine were donated by the Smart family after the previous machine broke down and was deemed unrepairable. Christine Smart directs the School of Integrative Plant Science at Cornell, and her husband Larry Smart is a plant science professor and an ’87 alum.
According to Larry Smart, the reason for this donation was to maintain the tradition of the apple vending machine for future generations of students.
“My mother also went to Cornell; she was class of ’57. And she remembers buying an apple in the apple machine. So it's been around for quite a while,” Larry Smart said. “We just think it's important to demonstrate to students, the outcomes of [Cornell’s apple] research while also giving them a healthy snack.”
Following the closing of the Cornell Orchards store in 2020, the machine is one of the few places to purchase Cornell Orchards apples, though P&C Fresh and GreenStar also stock Cornell Orchards apples seasonally.
“I know that the apples that we grow at the orchards go to the Cornell dining halls and they also go to local grocery stores, but you don't really know what's a Cornell apple or what's an apple from somewhere else,” Cook explained. “If you really want to buy and be sure that it’s a Cornell apple, then the vending machine is pretty much the only place to do it.”