The processes that process food before food becomes processed food
December 29, 2010 3:31 AM   Subscribe

Thank you, the inventors of these machines, for sparing us from "the idiocy of rural life" (although the potato farmer and his sons who appear in the potato-picker link are impressive: three handsome men, with wry, confident faces, as intelligent as you or I, and damned proud of their potatoes.)
posted by Faze at 4:02 AM on December 29, 2010 [3 favorites]

The watermelon harvester appears to actually involve lots of men harvesting watermelons.
posted by vacapinta at 4:05 AM on December 29, 2010

The watermelon harvester appears to actually involve lots of men harvesting watermelons.

The world awaits the Fully Autonomous Melon harvester.
posted by twoleftfeet at 4:28 AM on December 29, 2010 [3 favorites]

The first Carrot link shows harvesting of red beets.

All of these are fascinating.
posted by rmmcclay at 4:32 AM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

When I watched lettuce harvesting in Florida in the early 90's, this is what it looked like. Dozens of people following a big tractor, bending over again and again. What a hard way to make a living.
posted by Patapsco Mike at 4:56 AM on December 29, 2010

This amuses me because just the other day I was sorting through grapes--I work in the produce department of a supermarket--and wondered how they were picked. They were all placed carefully with the stem up, and cut neatly.

I asked the department manager, who was nearby, and got a "wtf are you asking me that for, you mad person" look, but we eventually decided upon people with sharp snippers.

That grape machine looks like it harvests for crushing, so very likely all the people on the harvest trail go about with snippers. Having worked the harvest trail, I can tell you that on some farms in QLD (Australia) at the very least, cucumbers are picked by hand. And some cucumbers ARE SPIKY. Ow.
posted by owlrigh at 5:04 AM on December 29, 2010

Thanks for this - it corrected a lot of misconceptions I had about how all of this stuff was harvested. For some silly reason, despite knowing that agriculture is highly mechanized now, somewhere in my mind was the peculiar notion that grapes, cherries, etc. were still picked completely by hand. I never would have imagined that there would be a big machine that shakes the hell out of a tree to get the goods.

And, I'm not sure when I'll next be able to eat chicken without imaging the giant chicken vacuum, sucking them all up and throwing them into cages.
posted by menschlich at 5:17 AM on December 29, 2010

Cherry harvesting looks just fantastic.
I remember how I had to climb the trees with bucket(s) in my childhood. It took 3-5 days for me and cousin to finish grandfather's cherry garden (7-10 trees).
posted by usertm at 5:35 AM on December 29, 2010

This is really cool but I'm scared I'm going to click the chicken one by mistake.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 5:47 AM on December 29, 2010

About the chicken harvester: the traditional way to harvest chickens is to do it manually (at night). Birds are caught by their legs and carried upside down. It takes hours in large farms and it's stressful for the workers and for the chickens, resulting in leg and wing injuries for the animals. These machines, as scary as they look, are supposed to decrease stress and injuries, though, in Temple Grandin's words, they're not a substitute for good management.
posted by elgilito at 6:20 AM on December 29, 2010

Neat, but none of them show *how* they work, which is vastly more interesting.
And nthng the Watermelon is not a machine; it's a conveyor belt on wheels for pickers to put the melons on.
posted by Old'n'Busted at 6:21 AM on December 29, 2010

That potato link is great....first, the soil looks amazing. Second, that machine is huge, and would look awesome running through London. Third, the father of the two boys is a spitting image for Roger Daltrey.
posted by nevercalm at 6:28 AM on December 29, 2010

Wow. It'll be a while before I can eat chicken again. Thats not right.

big meat eater
posted by hal_c_on at 6:38 AM on December 29, 2010

posted by dirigibleman at 6:52 AM on December 29, 2010

That potato video is the best thing I've seen for awhile.
posted by marxchivist at 6:59 AM on December 29, 2010

The tree one made me very sad.
posted by Ickster at 8:09 AM on December 29, 2010

I must not show this to my partner, who having completed a Master's in mechanical engineering, is now at that awkward stage of loving machines and loathing all options for a conventional job. He's already quite convinced that he can train cows into using an automatic milking machine and save waking up at 6:00 AM.

The tree one made me very sad.

Don't be too sad- those are pines, which are fast growing and in many areas replanted as part of regulation that allows you to take timber. Plus lumber jacking is one of the most dangerous human careers in the west, so I imagine that the arm is a heck of a lot safer on people than chain saws. That's a bunch of people that won't be killed, followed by a bunch of summer employees firing seedlings into the ground.
posted by Phalene at 8:24 AM on December 29, 2010

I just saw a segment on peanut harvesting that was pretty interesting. They grow on a bush like plant underground so the first step is to use a machine that cuts the plant out of the ground and flips it over. Then they dry in the sun for two days or so. Next another machine scoops up the plants to shake and vacuum the peanuts out of them. The shelling at the plant was essentially a series of shaking and sifting machines with vacuums.

I watched the pecan video but it is just shaking a tree. I think industrial level pecan shelling would be cool to see.
posted by soelo at 9:33 AM on December 29, 2010

I grew up across the street from a potato field. New England soil is notoriously stony, so they had guys constantly sorting out the rocks scooped up with the spuds. There would always be huge, jumbled piles of stones and misidentified potatoes - usually Kennebec or Norland Red - and we'd carry home wheelbarrowfulls of both before they were plowed under when it came time to seed the winter rye. The stones went to mending the walls and general landscaping projects around the yard, and the potatoes went to making dinner.
posted by Slap*Happy at 10:10 AM on December 29, 2010

"What's the difference between and Amond and an Almond?"

"An Almond is on the tree. An Amond is what you get when you shake the L out of it"


/obscure ag joke.
posted by a_green_man at 11:36 AM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

Strawberries are still picked by hand, although there are machines (direct video link) which are supposed to make it faster and easier.
posted by Xoebe at 12:08 PM on December 29, 2010

next year: Automated live human organ harveters
posted by Redhush at 12:34 PM on December 29, 2010

I eagerly await the introduction of these machines into various violent video games.
posted by benzenedream at 1:11 PM on December 29, 2010


I wonder if these machines will ever be relegated to enthusiasts and historical reenactors, like steam-driven ones are now?
posted by VelveteenBabbitt at 1:22 PM on December 29, 2010

Before you get to rendering the mutton, the fleece must be removed.
Note: This may be disturbing for some viewers.
posted by ...possums at 4:25 PM on December 29, 2010

Goat milk
posted by ...possums at 4:26 PM on December 29, 2010

I once had a job studying a disease of carrot leaves. It was a minor disease, and did no damage to the carrot root, but it was important, because it weakened the leaf petioles making it harder to harvest the carrots mechanically. I had mixed feelings about this, because on one hand, harvesting carrots by hand created a lot of jobs, but on the other hand, they were horrible jobs. I had to make periodic trips to Bakersfield, CA, and it was amazing to see those huge flat fields of carrots as far as the eye could see. It was also amazing to drive on the windy roads behind carrot trucks and have your car pelted by carrots.
posted by acrasis at 4:41 PM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

nice post, especially for people (like me) who haven't seen these machines before. i always wondered...
posted by friendlymilkman at 10:31 PM on December 29, 2010

Back in the day (80s) when I worked on a sugarcane farm, they didn't do green harvesting. They set fire to the crops and some places still do, because the green harvester was too expensive and they were all set up for the other sort. Used to be hella fun, walking around a couple acres burning cane with your damp hessian bag preventing the spread of fire.

I remember a friend of mine sending a postcard of this fun event to a penpal, who wrote back with commiserations that vandalism of crops was so common.
posted by b33j at 2:49 PM on January 1, 2011

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