Soy is a bean. And like any good bean, it must be grown. Hello! But how does this bean become soy wax, you ask? Well, here’s a crash course in soy wax production and its ultimate dependence on America’s wonderful farmers.
Soybeans are either crushed mechanically or solvents are used to extract soybean oil. After some color modification (bleaching) and refining, the oil is hydrogenated to make it more solid. Hydrogenation is nothing more than the process by which poly- and monounsaturated oils are solidified, thus increasing viscosity. All that’s needed to do this (just in case you have it laying around the house and want to try making soybean wax) is hydrogen, heat (somewhere in the vicinity of 280 – 500° F), and a nickel catalyst. A nickel what? I don’t know either. At any rate, the whole experiment makes saturated fats that can be used as soy wax. The drawback? Soy wax is super soft with a low melting point, so any creative soy candle maker usually works with a soy blend that contains not only soy wax, but also other natural botanical oils. Incidentally, what’s left of the bean after the beginning stages of the process is recycled as cattle feed.
So, what’s this got to do with farmers? Let me remind you that soy is a bean that must be grown by the millions, and hence soy candle makers and enthusiasts must depend on the commitment, hard work, and responsibility of our nation’s farmers. These men and women, after all, are not in the business of deciding whether we make a votive or a tealight, but rather they plant and produce a renewable resource that is all-natural and environmentally friendly. America’s soy farmers may not be erecting solar panels or windmills (though thousands of them have and will!), but they are contributing to the ecological well-being of our planet. And to me, that makes them heroes. Their product is renewable, so they’re not involved in the depletion of our natural resources. Soybean husks are recycled as cattle feed, thus nourishing livestock while offering the world a commodity that is both waste-free and biodegradable. And like many vegetable farmers, stalks and other “plant parts” are composted, which dramatically decreases the need to use chemical fertilizers.
Ultimately, American soy farmers pose virtually no threat to our environment, and instead produce a useful vegetable from a renewable resource whose primary use is dietary and not wax. At Country Wickhouse Candles, we may make what we believe are the best soy wax candles on the market, but we owe much of our success to the farmers who complete the dirty work none of us is willing to do. And this isn’t just the case with soy farmers. Each and every one of us should count ourselves grateful for the dairy, cattle, and vegetable farmers of America. As candle makers and general consumers as well, we honor and thank our farmers. We’d literally be nothing without them.
But perhaps Thomas Alan Orr, in the poem “Soybeans” from his work, Hammers in the Fog, captured the soybean farmer the best. In his poem, he illustrates not only the plight of the farmer, but also how underappreciated many of them are. Farming is not easy, and in hard times (like the ones we’re still having) it is often a battle simply to survive. I’ve included the text of the poem below. I hope you read it. Its message is powerful and memorable. Oh, and the next time you’re taking a quiet drive through the country and you see some guy or gal in a tractor in a field, pull over and thank them. They’re most likely American farmers.
The October air was warm and musky, blowing
Over brown fields, heavy with the fragrance
Of freshly combined beans, the breath of harvest.
He was pulling a truckload onto the scales
At the elevator near the rail siding north of town
When a big Cadillac drove up. A man stepped out,
Wearing a three-piece suit and a gold pinky ring.
The man said he had just invested a hundred grand
In soybeans and wanted to see what they looked like.
The farmer stared at the man and was quiet, reaching
For the tobacco in the rear pocket of his jeans,
Where he wore his only ring, a threadbare circle rubbed
By working cans of dip and long hours on the backside
Of a hundred acre run. He scooped up a handful
Of small white beans, the pearls of the prairie, saying:
Soybeans look like a foot of water on the field in April
When you’re ready to plant and can’t get in;
Like three kids at the kitchen table
Eating macaroni and cheese five nights in a row,
Or like a broken part on the combine when
Your credit with the implement dealer is nearly tapped.
Soybeans look like prayers bouncing off the ceiling
When prices on the Chicago grain market start to drop;
Or like your old man’s tears when you tell him
How much the land might bring for subdivisions.
Soybeans look like the first good night of sleep in weeks
When you unload at the elevator and the kids get Christmas.
He spat a little juice on the tire of the Cadillac,
Laughing despite himself and saying to the man:
Now maybe you can tell me what a hundred grand looks like.
—Thomas Alan Orr, “Soybeans,” Hammers in the Fog
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