Mitch's Blog 7.0

Mitch's Blog


Sunday, November 20, 2005

"I Went to the Sugar Factory and all I got was this Smelly T-Shirt"

So, a few things have taken place since the last time I posted. I thought it would be a good idea to talk about them for a little bit.

First of all, on the Wednesday before the big three-day Veterans’ Day weekend, I had a very special lab period for my Chemistry 221 class. My TA had decided many weeks earlier that we should forego having a lab before the holiday and instead take a field trip into the community to see some real-life chemists at work. So that’s exactly what we did.

All 25 or so of us in the two lab sections – plus a couple of special guests – ended up getting the opportunity to go on a thorough tour of the American Crystal Sugar Company in East Grand Forks, Minnesota. After donning the appropriate gear (hard hats, goggles, and ear plugs), we got to see the quite involved and complex process of turning famous Red River Valley sugarbeets into the bags of Crystal Sugar that I’m sure you’ve all seen in the grocery store.

I, for one, really enjoyed the tour, and when I say that we got to see just about all of the seemingly unrelated processes that go into the production of sugar, I really mean it. I was able to witness everything from the contents of a large semi-truck full of beats being unloaded and put onto a conveyer belt leading into the factory to seeing the large rotating drum granulators drying the damp sugar crystals into the final product that either gets purchased by consumers or corporations.

By far one of the worse aspects of the tour was the fact that basically the entire factory emitted a very unique smell. Both the sugar beets themselves and the chemicals used to extract the sugar from them are quite odoriferous, and the smell is something akin to fresh oatmeal mixed with old garbage. It was very definitely not a pleasant smell, but, all things considered, it wasn’t necessarily all that bad either. I suppose you could say it was like the smell of skunk along the roadway: it’s not an enjoyable smell, but it’s also not an overwhelming or choking one either, and you even become accustomed to it after a little while. Needless to say, I made sure to immediately change my clothes once I got back to my dorm room. The quote used in this entry's title came from one of the factory chemists who was trying to think of what the factory would sell if it had a gift shop.

I’d rather not go into the specifics of sugar production, but if you do have an interest in the matter, you should head over to, a website set up by Crystal Sugar to educate people on the techniques of producing sugar.

By the way, I also learned that Crystal Sugar has a large presence up here in the Red River Valley. The East Grand Forks facility is just one of five sugar-producing plants that the company owns in the area, with the other four located in Crookston (MN), Drayton (ND), Hillsboro (ND), and Moorhead (MN). Amazingly, each factory produces around 2,000,000 pounds of sugar each and every day during the “campaign” period that runs from about September to May.

Turning now to a completely unrelated topic, the other interesting thing that I wanted to write about was my experience doing some service learning work last Monday and Saturday (the 12th). One of the requirements of getting the semesterly tuition waiver for the Honors Program at UND is completing a minimum of 12 hours of service learning projects during the semester. Up until the 12th, I had only gotten 1 hour of involvement placed on the record books. I had some service learning to do. So, at about 6 PM on Saturday evening, I went over to the North Dakota Museum of Art, which is one of the buildings on campus and only a short walk from my dorm, to help out with the annual autumn art auction, an event that draws numerous (upwards of 300) well-off people from the Upper Midwest and Manitoba to Grand Forks for the evening to buy expensive (mostly over $400) pieces of art created by regional artists.

I had signed up weeks before the auction to help clean up everything at the end of the event, but after realizing that that wouldn’t earn me very many of the 12 hours that I needed, I decided to show up 30 minutes before the auction to see what sort of assistance I could provide.

There was only one other person signed up to do the thankless job of dishwashing, so I got to help out with that undertaking. It really wasn’t all that bad though, considering that most of the “dishes” were either big bowls that had held the hors d'oeuvres or wine glasses that could be placed into, to use one of my favorite ultra-long German words, a Geschirrspülpulvermaschine (dishwasher). There were a lot of wine glasses, though. Hundreds of them, in fact.

Meanwhile, on Monday, I went back to the museum to help set up the latest exhibit, a collection of flamboyant sculptures and glass works by Rochester (MN) artist Judy Onofrio entitled “Come One, Come All.” I was invovled largely with the unpacking of all of the pieces of art from the large wooden crates they had been sent in and then laying the pieces out so that they could be assembled by people who both knew what they were doing and were also willing to take the blame for anything that broke. I also helped clean up the museum so that it would look presentable for the opening of the exhibit.

I never would have thought that I would enjoy spending time in an art museum, but the North Dakota Museum of Art is a pretty interesting place. I’m glad that it’s a part of UND. It’s by no means a gigantic art museum (it’s housed in a former two-story gymnasium nearly 100 years old), but it is nice to have some good, unique art make its way up to the area. In addition, exhibits change about every 6 weeks, so there always seems to be a constant array of “new” art for visitors to look at.

To wrap this entry up, I thought I would post some pictures around campus that I took last Thursday while the Upper Midwest was experiencing its first rush of arctic air this season. The 18°F temperature during the time I took these photos felt really nice, and the dusting of snow that Grand Forks received during the day made yearn for the snowy days of winter.

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All it took was one night of near-zero temperatures for the coulee to freeze

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Here's another picture of the frozen coulee

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Here's a stubborn tree that hasn't yet given up its leaves

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Here's a view looking out the window in my room toward all-female Johnstone Hall

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The spot where Johnstone Hall and all-male Smith Hall connect to one another is the other view I can see from my window


Anonymous katja said...


It´s so nice to hear how you´re doing! The sugar factory sounds really interesting, and I actually think it would've been halarious had you actually gotten a shirt.

The art museum sounds really nice.

It sounds like you're really enjoying your time!

Take care, and feel free to write.


Sun Nov 20, 05:48:00 AM CST  

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Mitch's Blog began on December 23, 2001