THINKING OUTSIDE THE BOX
HOUSE THAT SOY BUILT LEAVES VISIONS OF SOYBEANS DANCING IN THEIR HEADS
by Den Gardner, Contributing Editor
Flash back to your youth for a moment. It's the holiday season in December. Your mom is tucking you into bed, but before you go to sleep, she pulls out a book and reads you "The Ginger-Bread Man." And after she reads the book to you, your stomach growls, you race to the kitchen to munch on that elaborate gingerbread house she has worked hours to prepare. Kinda makes you tingle, huh?
Flash forward to 2002! You're all grown up, trying to make a buck in this fast-paced, out-of-control business lifestyle you lead. Although that gingerbread house of your youth is just a fond memory, as an agri-marketer, visions of soybeans dance in your head.
Why? Because somehow in the past couple of years you've heard or read about The House That Soy Built. This "house," which has been seen at the 2000 and 2001 Farm Science Review in London, Ohio, is a pre-fabricated steel barn. Within its confines are two rooms - a living room and bathroom displaying the many uses of soy-based products. And what's coming for 2002? A kitchen, of course. I will be disappointed if a gingerbread house isn't created in the kitchen, with soy oil as one of the ingredients.
"We wanted to tell the soy story and incorporate soy products to show producers hands-on what checkoff dollars can accomplish," says Susie Calhoon, executive director of the Ohio Soybean Council and Ohio Soybean Association. "We pride ourselves in being innovative in new uses for soybean products, and this is one of the most visible things we do to communicate the many uses for soybean products."
The checkoff investments from the Ohio Soybean Council and the United Soybean Board (USB) are used to show the 100,000 consumers attending the Farm Science Review each year that soy-based products are a viable alternative to traditional products and can replace or enhance petroleum-based products.
The list is endless in terms of soy-based products used in the two rooms to date. For example, these products alone are in the living room: soy-based crayons, soy-based polyurethane carpet backing (foam material made from soy oil), soy oil used in waterborne paints and coatings, Cure & Seal soy-based concrete curing agent to seal and waterproof concrete, soy-based fabric dye, Environ biocomposite for countertops and cabinetry, Soy Smooth - a lotion and sun block made with soy protein, SafeOil 31 lubricant to clean and polish metals, SoyOyl for a variety of applications, including furniture cushions and picture frames, soy-based adhesives used to manufacture plywood, PRF/Soy 2000 finger-jointed wood bonded with soy-based adhesive which forms a joint that is stronger than the wood itself, soy ink for newspapers, posters and other printing uses, and insulation products currently under research. Whew!
The bathroom list is equally impressive. Products include Oriented Strand Board, a material made from strands of wood oriented at right angles and bonded together by a soy adhesive, Environ biocomposite (mentioned earlier), soy-based resin for PVC pipe, a toilet seat adhesive made from soy-based resin, sink resins, numerous bath and body plus hair care products from soybeans, soy-based cleaning products, soy-based polyurethane carpet backing and soy-based fabric dye mentioned earlier, and soy-based resin for producing molded plastic pieces such as a shower stall.
"Our United Soybean Board New Uses Committee has evolved into what it is today by teaming up with industrial partners, where we take basic research and apply it to developing actual products," says Eric Niemann, committee chair and soybean farmer from Kansas. "There's a lot of interesting work being done and people are surprised at the amount of products soybeans are used in."
ENLIGHTENING THE MEDIA
Publicizing the soy house in Ohio has been ongoing since September of 2000. Cindy Hackmann, account executive at Osborn & Barr Communications, St. Louis, has been working with the USB for a couple of years. She says the opening of the house had great interest, with a dozen or more media in attendance, and numerous ag radio networks and farm publications participating in a teleconference. A video news release was also prepared from the event and sent to Ohio television stations.
"We've only concentrated our publicity, thus far, on the ag audiences," she says. "Budget has been the primary reason, but we also realize that soybean checkoff dollars are intended to promote use of soybeans, and producers need to see that these efforts are working to increase their bottom line."
Calhoon echoes Hackmann's remarks. "The house really creates awareness in soybean producers on products being developed with checkoff dollars that they can see and touch. They may read a direct mail piece or a magazine article, but seeing a fingerjoint or standing on a floor with a soy-based curing agent in the concrete brings it into focus for producers."
The National Agri-Marketing Association (NAMA) has noticed the communications campaign for the house by recognizing, through an award, some of the media efforts. Calhoon also says a soybean producer from Illinois nominated the efforts by the Ohio group to promote soybeans for a meritorious service award through USB.
"It's really been rewarding," Calhoon says. "When we first built it and publicized it, soybean prices weren't high. They still aren't for that matter. That makes it tough for farmers to see expenditures for projects like this. But because we showcase the products, that makes the difference. We haven't had one negative comment."
By the same token, Calhoon says she has received lots of positive comments. "You don't always get that. A lot of work has been accomplished regarding use for soy-based products in a relatively short period of time - 10 years - since the national checkoff began," she says. "You don't always get to see things in black and white. There's always more gray."
Hackmann says interest in the soy house by the media has been increasing. "A lot of state soybean boards are interested in learning more about it," she says. "We've been hearing from state association magazines and other state media. Now we're gearing up for the fall. We plan to do this until we run out of rooms."
In the ensuing months, efforts will concentrate on the kitchen. This should bring more consumer awareness, especially when it comes to soy-cooking techniques, Hackmann says. "About 75 percent who attend the show are farmers or ag students," she notes. "There are quite a few consumers who are interested in what's going on. The kitchen should really help this fall."
Niemann, who farms 950 acres of corn and soybeans, says people are pretty knowledgeable about soy-based products in food. Spending the first two years with the living room and bathroom was an eye opener for some. "What's surprising to consumers and our farmer-consumers is the amount of industrial uses for soybeans. Soybeans can be used in virtually anything petroleum can be used in. And soybeans are renewable, homegrown and, in many cases, environmentally preferred. This is a message we need to publicize more and more."
If the Ohio Soybean Council and USB can build a house using soy-based products, this gingerbread idea in the soy house kitchen should be a piece of cake. I'll be looking for samples next fall. AM
Den Gardner owns Gardner & Gardner Communications, New Prague, Minn.