MN soybean farmers Stepping Up for homeless youth in Minnesota

From farm to frontline, the Minnesota Soybean Research & Promotion Council (MSR&PC) has taken another giant leap forward to highlight environmentally friendly investments from the soybean checkoff. In summer 2022, the Council, which directs the state’s soybean checkoff resources, launched the Stepping Up campaign to boost farmer profitability and promote the value-added uses of the “miracle bean” while making community connections.   

“Each year, our farmer-led board tasks our team with spotlighting checkoff projects – everything from biodiesel to road sealants to tires – in unique ways,” MSR&PC CEO Tom Slunecka said. “These initiatives help inform growers throughout the state on the ways the checkoff continues adding to their bottom line.”  

Following the successful 2021 Driving Soy promotion, soybean farmers from across Minnesota are promoting renewable, value-added soy products and giving back to health care workers in their communities. During the summer and fall, the Council’s organized county program, which represents more than 50 counties throughout the state, has led to more than 3,000 shoe donations to Minnesota health care workers.  

The Bridge For Youth’s Christina Woodlee (left) and Britney Riedinger (right) pose alongside 22 soy-based Skechers shoes as part of the Council’s Stepping Up donation.

“We know how much health care workers sacrifice for others in communities throughout Minnesota, especially in the past couple of years. I’ve seen it firsthand,” said Council Chair Joe Serbus, whose wife, Doreen, has worked in health care for more than 40 years. “This campaign has been an investment in both value-added soybean products and in the selfless health care professionals who keep us safe and healthy.”  

To cap the 2022 Stepping Up outreach effort, the Council donated more than 20 pairs of shoes to the Bridge for Youth shelter in south Minneapolis. In 2021, the Bridge for Youth won the Council’s Nominate a Nonprofit award to receive a set of Goodyear’s soy-based tires. However, the Goodyear tires couldn’t configure with any of Bridge for Youth’s vehicles. Instead, the Council offered to send the Bridge for Youth soy-based shoes.  

“We’re pleased to award these soy-based shoes to the Bridge for Youth for the valuable work they do in providing shelter and mental health resources for Minnesota’s youth,” Serbus said. “This gave us the opportunity this holiday season to recognize the valuable work nonprofits are doing for those who need a helping hand.”  

Since 1970, The Bridge for Youth has provided emergency shelter and supportive housing for minor-age youth (including single-parent youth) and young adults experiencing homelessness. The pandemic exacerbated issues related to youth homelessness. On any given night, 6,000 youths across Minnesota are homeless – accounting for nearly half of the state’s homeless population. Most home-instable youths are also experiencing mental health challenges. 

“Simple things ignite hope. The Bridge is grateful for the donation of new sneakers from our friends at Minnesota Soybean,” said Christina Woodlee, Bridge for Youth’s senior director of strategy & partnerships. “Together, we are bringing hope, love and the possibility of a bright future to youth experiencing homelessness in our community.” 

The Bridge for Youth’s Christina Woodlee (left) and Brittney Riedinger (right) accept a shoe donation from the Minnesota Soybean Research & Promotion Council as part of the Stepping Up campaign. 

As a result of the challenges brought forth by the pandemic, The Bridge launched its Mobile Youth Outreach Center, a bus equipped with food, clothing and hygiene needs. 

“We applaud The Bridge for Youth for their efforts in feeding and clothing our youth in the face of some difficult circumstances,” Slunecka said.  

A step above the rest 

In 2020, Skechers released its GO line of footwear, which uses soybean oil to improve grip, stability and durability. Skechers is using the same checkoff-supported technology featured in Goodyear Tire Company’s line of sustainable soy-based tires, which incorporated soy into its rubber technology.  

Kurt Stockbridge, Skechers vice president of Product Development and Innovation, said the company and the soybean checkoff are stepping up to create a superior shoe and reduce their environmental footprints.  

“Discovering ways to make product more sustainable is top of mind for Skechers,” Stockbridge said. “Though we were aware of the sustainable qualities of soybean oil, we were surprised to learn what the oil could do to improve our outsole rubber performance.” 

For each dollar soybean farmers pay toward checkoff resources, Minnesota producers receive an estimated $12.33 in return value. More than 1,000 commercially available products – ranging from shoes to machinery lubricants to asphalt – use commodity and high oleic soybean oil.  

“Once that soybean hits the mill, it’s local, it’s national – it’s everywhere,” said Belinda Burrier, a United Soybean Director who helped oversee the partnership with Skechers. “The money farmers make back on the checkoff is fantastic.” 

The Council hopes to continue taking big steps in 2023 by connecting with Minnesota communities through soy checkoff investments.  

“This campaign really encompasses everything the Council and our county organizations set out to achieve,” Serbus said. “We’ve all experienced some setbacks, but we’re excited to step up and move the checkoff forward.”   

Follow The Conversation