Adding value to crops can be critical to survival in a challenging market. But two soybean operations in Iowa and North Dakota have done just that by finding new uses for soybeans in making gift items and snack foods.

Loess Hills Candles

For Linda Cox, the answer to adding value to soybeans was right under her nose. Cox opened her Salix, IA, soy gift shop, Loess Hills Candles, three years ago when poor soybean prices sparked her entrepreneurial idea.

“It really upset me that prices were so low, and I thought there should be something that could be done with soybeans to increase the price,” she says.

So she heated up her kitchen to make her first soy wax candle, a 4-oz. jelly jar in a hot fudge brownie scent. The first candle's success spurred her expansion to more than 150 fragrances.

Cox says she takes pride in creating a quality product that promotes soybeans. By adding extra fragrance, her soy candles boast a burning time longer than many conventional candles.

As her business has grown, Cox has expanded her product line. Her shop is stocked with lotions, soaps and 14 flavors of soy lip balms. She also makes “critters,” which are stuffed animals dipped in fragrant wax and used as air fresheners. Her mother even helps her arrange scented, wax-dipped flowers for weddings and funerals.

But her business is more than just a gift shop. Cox calls herself a “farm-her with an attitude,” and she's determined to educate the public about the many uses of soybeans.

“I call this place Soyland, and when people come, it's not only just to shop. It's my opportunity to educate them on the uses of soybeans, too,” she says.

Her passion for sharing information about soybeans may stem from the 35 years she and her husband have farmed 430 acres of corn and soybeans. She started selling the candles on their farm and eventually relocated her business to Salix.

“I was just amazed after spending so much time in bean fields that you could actually take the bean and do something with it,” she says. “A lot of times once the crop is out of the field and you sell it, you don't know what happens to it. It's just gone.”

Her business has led her to give presentations at county fairs and community meetings. She emphasizes the health and economic benefits of using soybeans for a variety of products including paint, ink, soap, plastics and building materials.

“My idea is that we grow it so we need to promote it,” she says. “And that's what I'm trying to do. I figure every person I tell is going to tell two people who are going to tell two more people.”

Cox is determined to get farmers to look at their crop from a different angle. “I'm trying to get them to stop looking at them as bean fields and start looking at them as oil fields,” she says.

Soy BoyZ Inc.

What makes soybeans worth $240 a bushel? A giant deep fryer and a unique twist on an old idea — soy nuts.

The snack food inspired Soy BoyZ Inc. owners Darrel and Peter Johnson to try frying soybeans instead of baking them.

The idea came during deer season about three and a half years ago. Darrel started tinkering with soybeans and a deep fryer in his kitchen. Previous trials using an oven yielded hard, dry soy nuts, which shrank during baking. But when cooked in a deep fryer, the Johnsons discovered the beans retained their size and became crunchy, not hard.

This was a breakthrough for the snack food. “A lot of them are so dry, after you chew them they turn to paste,” Darrel says. “But these aren't like that. They aren't something you have to worry about chipping your teeth on. And they're not oily either.”

Darrel seasoned different batches with powdered ranch dressing, salt, steak seasoning, and cinnamon and sugar. “It seemed like no matter what you did with them, they all turned out pretty good,” he says.

Rave reviews from his test consumers, a group of his wife's co-workers, prompted the beginning of Soy BoyZ Inc., an extension of Johnson Bros. Farms. The business grows, cleans, roasts and packages non-GMO soy nut snacks.

The Johnsons raise and choose their best beans to clean, fry and package, which gives them a good handle on quality control, they say. The brothers grow 3,000 acres of soybeans and 1,000 acres of wheat.

“It was something that we were working with anyway,” Darrel says.

In their Drayton, ND, facility, a giant electric fryer cooks the beans and a conveyor brings them into another room for seasoning. The facility can fry, season and package 200 lbs. of soy nuts per hour. The facility is used only for soy nut production and thus eliminates risks of peanut and wheat product carryover.

But starting up a business has been full of costs and unseen hurdles. Even the smallest details must be considered, including complying with liability, packaging, trademark, logo, nutrition facts and Universal Product Code (UPC) regulations.

“It's just taking one thing at a time, and eventually, it all comes together,” Darrel says. “It's harder than what we thought it would be to get it going.”

The biggest challenge is marketing and advertising the soy nuts, he says.

“There have been so many bad (soy nuts),” Darrel says. “A lot of people have tried them before and they've got a negative attitude about them. We need to make people realize there's something better out there and get them to try it.”

Area businesses were receptive to the soy nuts, but the Soy BoyZ recognized the limitations of their location. The Midwest is less than ideal for marketing the soy nuts since most consumers don't seem to be as health conscious as those along the coasts, Darrel says.

The company also has been working with distributors to get retailers to carry their product. The Soy BoyZ currently are cooperating with a business in California to sell the snacks in Hawaii and Guam, Darrel says.

“We're still getting started,” he says. “There are a lot of good things that are going on here, and it seems like it's coming together.”