Can soybeans help to save the world? After examining what the Plenty International Soy Promotion and Agricultural Assistance Program is accomplishing, the answer may be “yes.”
Founded in 1974 by a large intentional community in southern middle Tennessee called “The Farm,” Plenty was inspired by its founders’ commitment to “finding a lifestyle that could ultimately serve as a model of sustainability.” Developing a plant-based diet seemed like the next logical step to uphold their ideals since many more people could be fed if land were used to grow plant protein as opposed to animal protein.
Plenty expanded this philosophy internationally when they responded to a major earthquake in Guatemala. Plenty volunteers lived among the Mayan people while helping to rebuild homes and schools. “The Mayans were intrigued by the volunteers’ use of soybeans for making milk and tofu,” said Peter Schweitzer, Executive Director of Plenty International. “They observed the good results when their malnourished children were given soymilk.” Thus began the Soy Promotion Program in Guatemala. Volunteers worked with the Mayan farmers to determine which varieties of soybeans would grow well on their lands and held in-home demonstrations to illustrate how soymilk and tofu could be made with the tools the Mayans had on-hand. Eventually, Plenty received funding to open a village-scale soy ‘dairy.’
Since the program’s inception, Plenty has brought soy to Belize, Dominica, Guatemala City, Jamaica, Lesotho, Liberia, Mexico, and St. Lucia, and the program is continually receiving requests for assistance from groups all over the world. The enthusiasm for Plenty’s soy program can be attributed to a number of factors. It has proved to be a great way to address nutritional needs and allows people who could not normally afford meat to make foods with tastes and textures similar to the protein foods they are used to eating.
Plenty’s program also helps families adapt soybeans into rotation with corn, rice, and other grains on small farming plots, which improves annual incomes and sustains soil fertility. If the land was used instead to support livestock, the yield would be much lower and the detrimental effects on the land would soon make it agriculturally unusable. “We do not believe that huge commercial agriculture projects that allow for the destruction of thousands of acres of forests and virgin lands are good development models. This approach results in poor families being forced to relocate their homes, increases soil erosion and the use of dangerous chemicals,… and accelerates the loss of important biological diversity,” said Schweitzer of the biggest reason that Plenty’s programs are bringing soy around the world.
So, what could someone who is interested in promoting the use of soy do? “You mean besides sending a donation to Plenty?” quipped Schweitzer, who suggests generating interest in soy foods beginning wherever you are. “Work very patiently with the local people, on every level and at every new stage, to develop and implement any project or program. To increase the chances of sustainability, be sure to encourage growing soy locally and organically along with the processing part. Also, encourage experimentation because people can be very creative in developing their own recipes and products.”
Maybe soy can help save the world… even if it has to happen one bean at a time. To learn more about Plenty or to make a donation, visit www.plenty.org.
Cecilia Peterson wrote this article while doing an internship with The Vegetarian Resource Group.
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