Ag Lit Bit by Diane Merrion
Nothing draws more comments and praise than the infamous beanie baby. No I’m not talking about those beanie babies that TY popularized when my kids were small. The ones that had parents crazy when a “new” one came on the market or the ones that McDonalds were offering in Happy Meals that had us eating those meals just to get a mini-version of those babies. I’m talking about the Ag in the Classroom make and take project that involves a small bag, Soil Moist, water and the #2 crop grown in Illinois, soybeans.
This month we are highlighting a school that used the beanie baby to bring attention to the soybean and its importance in our state. Farmers will soon be out in their fields harvesting this crop which will be shipped via road, river and rail throughout the USA and the world. About half of Illinois soybeans are exported. Luckily, we’re uniquely situated when it comes to shipping soybeans. We have:
• Semis that carry beans on Illinois roads
• Barges that ship soybeans on the Mississippi and Illinois rivers
• Trains that transfer soybeans via railroad cars across the country
There are also “intermodal containers.” That’s a fancy phrase for big bins that can be moved via ship, truck or train without being opened. Containers come to Chicagoland full of products we buy at Target, Walmart and other stores. Then, container companies fill them with soybeans and send them back to where the containers originated. Of the soybeans that stay here, most wind up feeding livestock – usually pigs. After harvest, unless soybeans are headed straight for export, they’re crushed and separated into meal and oil. Soybeans are very nutritious and full of protein, making them great for animal feed and “people” feed. The average American consumes nearly half a cup of soybeans in some form each day. The oil is used in everything from food to ink to fuel. (Visit http://www.watchusgrow.org/TheAcre for more information.)
As you drive past fields of soybeans that are turning brown and looking ready to harvest soon, think about how that bean germinated many months ago and is now heading to a processor. The beanie baby is a wonderful educational activity to explain that process of germination and to also open up a discussion about the importance of agriculture in our state and world. With Halloween coming soon, most of us will probably be eating a lot of soybeans. Did I mention soy lecithin?