The first soybean crop ever grown in North America was planted at Orangedale Plantation on Skidaway Island, Ga., more than 250 years ago.
The soybean originated in East Asia, but was brought to Georgia by Samuel Bowen in 1764. Bowen arrived to the American colony traveling from China on an East India Company ship, of which he was an employee. The Englishman declined to return aboard the ship and settled in Savannah, where he planted and harvested what is considered the first ‘soya’ bean crop in North America, according to Sharon Dowdy, writing for the New Georgia Encyclopedia.
Earlier sources credited the much-more-famous Benjamin Franklin with introducing soya to North America; later research shows Bowen was the “Jonny Appleseed” of soya on the New World.
That first American soybean crop was planted spring 1765 at Orangedale Plantation, land now a part of the University of Georgia’s Skidaway Institute of Oceanography. Bowen later received a patent for the production of soy sauce for exporting to England.
On Jan. 9 of this year, the Georgia Historical Society, the Georgia/Florida Soybean Association and the Georgia Agricultural Commodity Commission for Soybeans erected a marker on Skidaway Island commemorating the introduction of soybeans to North America. The marker is on McWhorter Drive about a mile from the institute, according to Georgia Soybean Association.
Though soybeans now are more strongly associated with “I” states in the Midwest, where by far the bulk of U.S. production takes place, soybeans remain a stable component of the diversified farm mix associated with Southeastern states, finding its place in cotton, corn, wheat and even peanut rotations.
Though the soybean came from China, U.S. entrepreneurship and American ingenuity in the last half a century have made the soya one of the world’s staple foods, with hundreds of cultivars available to grow in hundreds of different scenarios or environments. And the U.S. now is the No. 1 global producer of soybeans, with more than half of the U.S. annual soybean production bought by China -- at least for now.
And it all started because an Englishman didn’t want to get back on an English boat and leave the Southern charms of Savannah. I get that completely.
Thanks for reading.