A Seneca County farmer views a new soybean as an opportunity for farmers to grow a new crop and a chance for consumers to add a nutritional and tasty vegetable to the dinner table.
Charles Fry says he hates the fact that the United States imports more than 100,000 tons of the soybean, called edamame (pronounced ed-ah-mommy), with 85 to 90 percent coming from China.
Fry says he is encouraged by the fact that they intend to see farmers plant the edible soybean on 1,200 acres in 2012 and as many as 4,000 acres in 2013 — all to be grown for the American consumer market.
“Edamame is a vegetable soybean — edamame is to a soybean what sweet corn is to field corn,” Fry said. “It is still a soybean, but we harvest it at the peak of maturity and eat like a vegetable instead of letting dry off and use it like grain crop.”
A dozen farmers gathered at RJ Coffey Cup Saturday to listen to a presentation by Fry regarding growing the new crop and to treat their tastebuds to a bowl full of the green podded beans. The bean resemble green beans, with a similar but more mild taste.
“This is the perfect vegetable,” said Fry, who first ate edamame at a sushi restaurant. “It is a great nutritional package. It has all the essential amino acids, in fact it is the only vegetable with all the essential amino acids. You have protein in every serving, good fiber — and there are nutritionists who will tell you it is almost the perfect vegetable.
“Kids love it,” he said. “You get a bag of edamame, show them how to pop the beans out, put it on the table and they will eat the entire bag.”
Fry, who traveled throughout the world including Japan before coming back to Ohio to farm with his father, explained the West Coast and East Coast have been making dishes out of edamame for the past 10 to 15 years. Today, people can find the vegetable in most any grocery store in the produce section or among the frozen food.
While the bag will having cooking instructions, Fry points out to eat only the bean and not the pod. He said the quickest way to make edamame is to pop them in the microwave, put some sea salt on them and eat them out of the bowl.
In 2004, Fry decided to plant two acres with the sweet soybean. By 2007, the Frys planted 200 acres, which accounted for 10 percent of the U.S. crop production that year.
This year he expanded from growing the vegetable on his farm to contracting with farmers near Napoleon.
On Saturday, Fry explained he intends to contract farmers in this region to grow an additional 500 to 600 acres of the vegetable soybean — which comes from a seed that he has developed and continues to improve on his farm in northern Seneca County.
Being a grain farmer, he also told those in attendance Saturday, he understands their apprehension as well as their excitement.
“Everybody has their own decision process they go through for why they raise the crops that they do or the animals they raise,” Fry said. “For me, the things that are compelling is that it uses existing equipment we already have. It fits into our regular rotation — in other words, wherever I am going to grow soybeans I can grow these soybeans, so I don’t have to change my schedules or my farming ground.”
Contracted farmers only grow the vegetable soybean.
Charles and his father, Gerry Fry, harvest, truck and process the beans into edamame at their farm through a business they started called the American Sweet Bean Co. Wapakoneta resident Andy Haag is helping the Frys with the edamame process by engineering an automated system of cleaning the beans.
Charles Fry wanted to introduce the crop to area farmers and to learn if they wanted to participate in the test plots. He said he wants to grow some in a different weather pattern in west-central Ohio.
To be profitable, Fry said it is best if 100 acres is devoted to the crop.
His company harvests the crop, which takes 85 days or 95 days to mature (depending on seed variety), starting at midnight and spend nearly 20 hours in the field. They start at night because the bean plant relaxes and it is easier to separate the pod from the plant.
They also have to harvest the bean prior to it turning green to yellow, which turns the heads of other farmers, who wait longer for their traditional soybean field to mature.
For Fry, growing the crop fulfills a romantic idea of who the American farmer is and should be.
“Our competitors are foreign imports,” Fry said cracking open a emerald green pod and displaying the lighter green bean. “This product grows great in the United States, it grows great in Ohio. As far as I am concerned if we have food that grows well here then we ought to have American farmers growing it for American consumers.
“It seems crazy that we would be paying the Chinese to bring soybeans into Ohio and the United States,” he said. “Almost all of our regular soybean production gets used for animal feed. I have this romantic notion that farmers grow crops to make food for people to eat. This is a great opportunity to do that.”