Technology has come so far these days that farmers barely have to be in the combine to operate it. But, that's not the case around the world. In the village of Tugela Ferry in South Africa, the “combine” for the soybeans is a pedal-powered grinder.

The VitaGoat grinds beans, cooks the ground product in a pressure cooker (heated by fire), then presses the product to strain off milk (used for drinking or to make other soy products), leaving a usable byproduct.

The pedal piece, manufactured first in Canada by Malnutrition Matters, but now in India, is a contraption that looks like a stationary bike, and has a grinder attached to it. That grinder processes soybeans using pedal power.

“Based on a design created in the mid-1970s, energy is produced through a pedal-powered system that uses adjustable-speed pulleys, permitting fast and easy grinding of a variety of foods,” says Frank Daller, president of Malnutrition Matters. “Seating is adjustable depending on operator height, and the pulleys can be matched to the individual's power. An inexpensive modified hand mill using metal plates grinds foods 10-20 times faster than with traditional methods.”

Once the product is ground, it then goes into a cooker, powered by a steam boiler with water heated over a fire.

“The boiler is about 10 times more fuel-efficient than traditional open-fire cooking and more efficient than stove-top cooking,” says Daller. “The cooker is made from stainless steel and can cook up to 15 liters of food per batch, under pressure. Cooked product exits the cooker through a valve-controlled bottom opening.”

THERE'S ALSO A press that's a part of the operation. All stainless steel, the pressing squeezes out liquid from product held within a filter bag. The liquid pours out the bottom into a pail. Soy-based milk and yogurt are made from the liquid, and the byproduct, called okara, is used to make other goods.

“Nothing from the bean is wasted,” says Barb Overlie, Lake Crystal, MN, and member of the World Initiative for Soy in Human Health (WISHH). “The ground-up beans are put in the cooker and when done, are strained. The milk pours into a bucket, and can be used to make tofu or yogurt, or used just as milk. The okara can be used in bread baking or even to make chips.”

Overlie traveled to Tugela Ferry with the WISHH organization and United Soybean Board. Minnesota Soybean Research & Promotion Council (MSR&PC) donated money (funded by checkoff) for a VitaGoat for the village.

“A VitaGoat is ideal because a reliable electricity source isn't necessary,” she says. “MSR&PC bought one for an orphanage in South Africa through the WISHH program, as part of a comprehensive market development project.”

The VitaGoat — which is a non-electric version of the SoyCow — can be used to grind and cook a variety of things, but the one in Tugela Village is mainly used for grinding soybeans, which are sourced locally.

“A VitaGoat can run a 4-lb. batch (grinding and cooking of beans) in 20 minutes,” says Jim Hershey, director of WISHH. “Those 4 lbs. of beans produce 4 gal. of milk, which is 64 servings of soy.

“They can do about two batches an hour,” says Hershey. “With 1 bu. of beans being over 750 servings of soy milk, 1 bu. would represent a long day's work for the VitaGoat and team.”