Even though edamame is growing in popularity with Iowa consumers, nearly all the edible green soybeans available in this soybean-producing state are imported. Soyfoods Council Executive Director Linda Funk is determined to change that.
This spring, Funk recruited Iowa Soybean Director Ray Gaesser to raise an edamame plot on his farm near Corning. On Monday Ray and Elaine Gaesser, along with their son Chris and daughter Jen, joined Funk in hosting an edamame harvest event for nearly 20 chefs, food editors and news reporters.
The group handpicked the edamame and shelled them. They then teamed up to prepare a meal that included edamame salads, Iowa-grown pork chops and cookies made with the new high-oleic soy oil. As they dined, they learned about nutritional benefits from Funk and heard edamame poetry read by Gail Bellamy, poet laureate.
“People think of edamame as a vegetable because they use it as a snack or in salads,” Funk says. “But it is a nutrient dense protein with many benefits.”
Regarding Funk’s dream that edamame will be grown on a larger scale in Iowa, Gaesser said growing edamame is not unlike raising conventional soybeans. “The only special equipment it will take to raise it on a larger scale would be for harvesting,” Gaesser says.
Funk says, in addition to pea or green bean picking machines being modified for edamame, the other need would be for processing facilities, which in turn could be also be used for other fruits and vegetables.
“With the trend toward local food, I believe this is a very feasible goal,” Funk says.
Doing a quick calculation of what the yield per acre would be and using edamame’s retail price, as reported by the chefs on hand, Gaesser says the retail value of an acre of edamame could be $48,000/acre.
Regarding the day’s experience, Robin Zimmerman, test kitchen associate at Cuisine at Home magazine, says, “What better way to learn about a new-to-me ingredient than from the ground up!”
Iowa Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Karey Claghorn says she was thrilled to be among the guests.
“Iowa is a commodity state, raising 14 billion eggs, for instance,” Claghorn says. “Every opportunity for farms to diversify, whether with vineyards or a new crop like edamame, adds value. It’s exciting to see the way a new crop in its infancy gets started. It begins with educating people and getting them to start looking for a product. Right now, most of our edamame is grown in China, but we hope that will change and people will look for Iowa-grown edamame.”