Marketing Edamame Soybeans in Southeast Missouri

Project Overview

FNC09-781
Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2009: $6,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2010
Region: North Central
State: Missouri
Project Coordinator:

Commodities

  • Agronomic: soybeans

Practices

  • Crop Production: conservation tillage
  • Education and Training: demonstration, display, farmer to farmer, mentoring, on-farm/ranch research, workshop, youth education
  • Farm Business Management: new enterprise development, cooperatives, marketing management, farm-to-institution
  • Natural Resources/Environment: hedges - grass, habitat enhancement, hedgerows
  • Pest Management: chemical control, cultivation
  • Sustainable Communities: local and regional food systems, new business opportunities, employment opportunities

    Summary:

    PROJECT BACKGROUND
    I planted 2 acres of edamame soybeans under irrigation on the family farm in Mississippi County, Missouri, staggering each acre apart by two weeks. The two acre field may rotate in midst of the family commercial farming enterprise. Two different varieties, Midori Giant and Sunrise, were planted behind wheat. In mid-June I burnt off the wheat stubble and put down Treflan (1 qt per acre) and field cultivated twice. I planted the edamame on the 16th of June, 18 rows of Midori Giant, on 30 inch rows, 3-4 seeds per foot. Two weeks later I planted the second acre with 9 rows at 30 inch rows of Midori Giant and 9 rows at 30 inch rows of Sunrise, 8 seeds per foot. On July 23rd I plowed both crops of edamame. August 8th I hand weeded 1st crop of edamame (2nd crop did not need weeding). I manage the crop intensely and marketed the edamame soybeans to local consumers in Southeast Missouri and the St. Louis area.

    Each year the edamame soybeans are planted in a different field on a crop rotation, corn and beans system. Through the family farm operation, bi-annual soil test are taken and organic fertilizer, chicken litter, is applied.

    PROJECT DESCRIPTION
    Goals:
    1. Implement edamame into the local school systems
    2. Expansion of the edamame parties
    3. Changing the eating habits of local children
    4. Edamame production evaluation on small acreage in Southeast Missouri

    PROCESS
    Goal 1. Edamame in local school systems
    Implementing edamame into the local school systems was very successful. For local public schools, I worked with the schools’ food contractor. I did three school tastings at rural schools. I passed out samples of edamame in Charleston, Missouri to 150 4th and 5th graders, East Prairie, MO for 350, 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th graders, and Lilboun, MO to 25, 3rd graders. Principals and teachers were sent brochures for preview of edamame facts. School nurses were contacted to check for children with allergies related to soy. I set up a visual display in the cafeteria with signage of my business and pictures of my farm, as well as brochures and recipes cards. I washed and prepared the edamame myself using the school kitchen and its equipment. This allowed the cooks and people who prepare the food to watch, learn and ask questions as well. Children were asked if they would like to sample the new vegetable. A small sampling of about 5 – 8 pods were given to each child on their tray. They were asked not to sample until everyone was seated and I could show them how to eat the edamame. After I showed them how to eat the edamame, I walked around the table passing out more to the ones who liked it. My results showed on an average, that approximately 80 percent of the children liked it and wanted more.

    I also did a tasting in St. Henry School, a local private grade school, feeding approximately 100 children, 1st thru 8th graders. I held presentations and tastings in Cape Girardeau, MO public high school in five of their Health Economics Classes called Family Meals, where I demonstrated how to prepare the edamame as well as eat them. These classes had approximately 20 kids in each class. I also had a school tasting in St. Louis, Missouri at Maplewood Richmond Heights Elementary School, feeding 250, 2nd thru 6th graders. This school is in a grant program to bring local raised farm food to the school’s lunch menus. In all of these school tastings I was able to talk and present edamame health facts and share local produce with the administrators, principals, nurses, teachers, cooks and children.

    Goal 2. Expansion of edamame parties
    The plan to expand on the edamame parties was replaced with presentations in supermarkets and a Farm Expo where I was in contact with customers of all ages. (This was basically the same thing, just not in a home environment.) I spent a day in Schnucks on Clayton Road in St. Louis, MO, Sappington Farmers Market in Webster Groves and The Food & Farm Expo at Webster Groves Recreational Complex. I set up a display with signage, pictures of my farm, brochures and recipe cards. I had prepared edamame for tasting in the supermarket. The markets had packaged edamame for sale for customers. At the Expo I steamed fresh edamame at the table in an electric steamer and I had 25 lb. baskets of edamame which we weighed, bagged and sold by the pound. The choice to go with the supermarket tastings vs. the home tastings was for several reasons. One reason was to find a central place to sell or disperse of edamame to reach more people. Two, to find a buyer that would expand this edamame market in their other stores. Three, I needed a larger market to see if there was a need for fresh edamame. (I do not have a way to process it at this point.) And the last reason was the shelf life on the edamame had been cut short with cooler problems and I needed to choose my time wisely, picking the choices that would get me in contact with the most people in the shortest amount of time.

    Goal 3. Changing the eating habits of local children
    Through the edamame tastings in the elementary schools, I was able to introduce a vegetable that was fun to eat, had a pleasant taste and is good for you. With my display, showing pictures of my farm made it more personal for them. Many children were very curious and had lots of questions. Giving the children a choice of whether or not to taste it gave the children who were leery to taste it time to investigate and watch the other children try it first. Most of these children then asked if they could have a sample to taste. As I walked around to give extra samplings, this allowed me to answer questions, talk about the bean, how it is grown, why it is so good for you, how you can eat it, who else eats it, where can you find it. Again, results showed that approximately 80 percent of the children like the edamame and wanted more.

    Through the health classes at the public high school, I was in a kitchen setting and demonstrating how easy it was to prepare the edamame. We focused on the nutritional details of what percent of protein, calcium, iron, etc. was in 1 and 1/8 cup in a shell or 1/4 cup shelled. I had measuring cups filled with both edamame in a pod and shelled so they could get a visual.

    Goal 4. Edamame production evaluation
    The yield I am providing is chosen by a method of selecting plants in each row, every 20 feet and picking a plant and weighing the edamame per plant. I chose this method for two reasons. First, because I was selling by the pound and wanted to know about how much a plant would produce per pound. Second, there was crop left in the field because there was no place to sell it. My yield results of my samples, in both varieties (Madori Giant and Sunrise) made approximately ¾ pound per plant. Each plant is space approximately 4 inches apart. (My yield from the past two years ranged from 1500 to 1600 lbs. per acre. This yield was chosen by how much was picked in a 1/4 of an acre and sold.)

    This was the first year I had hired professional pickers to pick the edamame in the field. These pickers had picked green beans before, but never edamame. They were quite surprised at how much edamame was on each plant and how long it took them to pick the edamame. There was edamame left in the field that could not be picked before it had hardened. I would recommend only using professional hand pickers on 1/4 to 1/2 acre rotations. Anything more would need to be harvested with a mechanical harvester.

    Edamame after being picked needs to be kept or stored at a temperature of between 36 degrees to 42 degrees (like any other fresh vegetable). I built a homemade cooler, to save on expense. My cooler was made from an insulated trailer that sat on the farm at the shop. I built a wall, several layers thick, with heavy plastic to make my refrigeration space 1/3 of the trailer. I bought a used walk-in refrigeration unit for the trailer and installed an electrical outlet for the unit and lighting. I had shelves built to hold my 20 pound baskets of edamame. The cooler held a temperature of 36 degrees. I pick the edamame in August and start about 9:00 a.m. so the pods are without dew and dry. August being one of the hottest months of the year, the soybeans were very warm when I put them in the cooler. I took 2 or 3 trips a day putting 200 lbs in at a time. The temperature in the cooler went up to 60 degrees and it took 36 hours to cool the edamame and drop back down to 40 degrees. I have not been washing it in the past 3 years because moisture can cut down on shelf life, mold can occur during storage and the pod is not eaten. The refrigeration unit would also freeze up and I would need to adjust the defrost times until the cooler maintained a constant temperature. This problem occurred because I was up to 2 acres dealing with hundreds of pounds of soybean. I could take a 10 lb bag and bring it out of the fields and fill my refrigerator, and the edamame would last up to 6 weeks. Because of this loss of shelf life I was moving it as fast as possible and working mainly on the school tastings and grocery markets which replaced the edamame tasting parties.

    PEOPLE
    • Mary Jo Wannabe, Wannabe Seeds, was my seed supplier and she gave me planting and harvesting tips.

    • Lindsay Goodin, my husband and farmer, prepared the ground, planted the edamame and cultivated the crop.

    • Van Ayers, University of Missouri Extension, gave me advice and information on helping me write the grant, marketing tips and contact names of people in the school districts, storage ideas and markets.

    • Linda Jones, District Maneger. of Opaa! Food Management, brought her regional manager to my edamame farm, sampled my edamame, and set me up in three schools in her district for edamame tastings. Bought edamame for rural schools.

    • Nancy Smith, owner of Sappington Farmers Market in St. Louis and vegetable expert, set up a promo tasting in Sappington Farmers Market. Ms. Smith featured Mamma’s Edamame in a St. Louis publication, The Healthy Planet, in an article highlighting vendors who were going to be at the Food and Farmers Expo. Ms. Smith also connected me with St. Louis University where they are processing food for schools in farm-to-school programs.

    • Bill McKelvey, University of Missouri Extension, visited with me by phone and email sharing information on the Farm to School Summit, getting the food into schools, GAP (Good Agricultural Practices) certification and liability coverage.

    • Ed Pohlman, Schnucks St. Louis Produce, set me up in a Schnucks store in Webster Groves, MO for a promo tasting.

    • Lisa Elfrink, Cape Girardeau, Missouri schools food administrator, set up edamame tastings in five high school health classes.

    • Franco Otora, a professional hand-picker, harvested the edamame with his employees.

    • Robert Rusan, principal of Maplewood Richmond Heights School, in St. Louis, which is in a farm-to-food lunch program, set up a tasting in their school.

    • Daniel Leonard, community outreach of Catholic Charities of Community Services, contracted for 25 pounds of edamame after receiving information about me at the Food and Farmer’s Expo for his mid-town center food bank.

    • Ronda Smythe, Healthy Eating with Local Produce, Department of Nutrition and Dietetics, Saint Louis University, contracted for 100 lbs of edamame for a grant program where they are freezing local food for schools lunches when the vegetables are not in season.

    RESULTS
    Marketing of edamame soybeans into the local school system was the major part of my project. My results for school tastings are approximately 80 percent liked the taste of edamame, 5 percent didn’t try it, 15 percent said they didn’t like the taste and 25 percent wanted more. These were measured by asking the children for a show of hands and calculating by the number of children present. Each school tasting whether in a large group or a small classroom was about the same, give or take a percent or two. The final results were: Children like the taste of edamame and think it is fun to eat.

    Regarding the supermarket tastings, I didn’t move what the grocery stores would have liked me to move. Sappington Farmers Market was on a Friday, a slower day for them, Schnucks was on Saturday, but their big crowds came in after 6:00 p.m. to prepare for dinner and I had left by this time. There was not a high enough volume of customers for the market to be too interested in selling my produce fresh. Selling edamame fresh is a new concept for the supermarkets as well as people who are familiar with edamame. Most people have only seen this vegetable sold frozen.

    The Farm Expo was a bigger success with the customers looking for farm raised local produce and being able to buy directly from the grower. These customers were at the Expo looking for local food and they were buying it direct, knowing what and where they were getting their food. It was still new to many of the customers that stopped by for a tasting. Both markets liked the idea that my edamame was local produce, hand weeded, and handpicked.

    My results were about what I expected and I would not do anything differently. The school tastings were very successful. I knew children would like the tasting of edamame if they had the chance to try it. The supermarkets and implementing the [sale of] edamame in their produce [department]; I was surprised that the idea of fresh edamame was not as quickly enticing. I believe that this is because edamame is still NEW to people and the idea has just not caught on yet. The Farm Expo was successful, because people were there looking for what I was marketing even though it was new, they were in there to look for fresh produce.

    DISCUSSION
    I am a success story with this grant. The grant allowed me to increase my acreage from the three previous years, build a temporary cooler, and take opportunities to share with the public and represent myself as a serious farmer.

    By increasing my acreage in one year and planting in a continuous cropping system, I took on twice as much as I had in the past and learned that this extra increase in yield created a new problem that I was not aware of. When I harvested the edamame, which is always in August or September, the temperature of the edamame was high and when I put it in the cooler that I had set at 36 degrees, it raised the cooler temperature and cut down on the shelf life of the edamame. This hurt my selling season. I also was not prepared for the large yield of edamame. I was still in the marketing business and just making contact and getting the customers to buy still didn’t consume all the edamame I had.

    I also learned that the edamame needed to be picked about five days before ready state. (Ready state: when the leaves are barely turning yellow.) I learned this on the first harvest and tried on the second harvest to jump in early and save more of the edamame. This was also the first season that I had professional hand-pickers. The picker team of about 7 to 10 men had never picked edamame before. They had picked green beans and thought that it would be very similar. They thought they would be able to set in and pick one acre in a day and half, and allocated this time for me during other jobs they were doing with other farmers. It was a shock to them how much edamame was on each plant. They did the best they could for the time they had allowed me and helped me get the crop out of the fields.

    OUTREACH
    September 14, 2010, in the Mississippi County Time, a local newspaper, an article titled, Local students sample new veggie snack, was published about Mamma’s Edamame, LLC and the school tastings. Information in the article mentioned how local school children in Charleston and East Prairie had the opportunity to try a new vegetable thanks to a North Central Region - Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program which honored the grant Monica Goodin received. It explained my purpose for the school tastings, to educate children on this new vegetable to America.

    In the October 2010 OPAA!, Food Management, Inc. newsletter, Vol. IX, Issue 1, a news release titled, Students Tastes Edamame in New Madrid, was published. The food distributer, OPAA is for the rural schools in Southeast Missouri. This article has three pictures, one of the children tasting the edamame, Monica passing out the edamame to the students and teachers and a picture of the edamame pods. This article explained that the edamame was grown in Charleston, MO and prepared by the grower for sampling. It also explained that the grower talked to the children about how it is grown, harvested, and prepared, and how healthy and delicious it is for you. It mentioned that none of the students had ever tasted it before and how they enjoyed the presentation.

    In the September, 2010 issue of The Healthy Planet magazine, Mamma’s Edamame, LLC was featured as a vendor for the Food and Farmers Expo held, September 19 in Webster Groves, MO. The article noted that Monica Goodin grows and harvests her edamame and travels to schools to educate children in the fine art of eating edamame. During the Expo, I made several contacts with people for future sales and marketing aspects. One that happened immediately was the sale of 25 pounds of edamame to the Catholic Charities in Midtown St. Louis. There was someone at my booth the whole day; approximately 3000 people visited the Expo that day.

    October 23, 2010, Darvin Green, Lincoln University Cooperative Extension in Lilbourn, MO, scheduled Monica Goodin as a guest speaker, representing a success story for the SARE Grant Workshop in Portageville, MO. There were approximately 25 people attending. I visited with other farmers about my introduction to edamame and how my hard work and ideas led to receiving the SARE grant and how the grant benefitted me, helping me to introduce the new crop to many people for marketing purposes.

    On December 20, 2010, Representatives of Lincoln University, Miranda Duschack, Small Farm Specialist; Janet Hurst, Farm Outreach Worker; and Karen Davis, Regional Horticulture Educator, interviewed Monica Goodin while sampling edamame at her home. The interview was for an article in a Lincoln University Cooperative Extension publication called Innovative Small Farmer’s Outreach Program (ISFOP): East Central Region.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.