Since its opening in 2011, the American Vegetable Soybean and Edamame plant in Mulberry has been influencing the city and how it defines itself.
AVSE processes, packages and distributes the edamame as a variety of products, including frozen, toasted and freeze-dried, and continues to be the only company dedicated solely to edamame. It was the first company to commercially process edamame on a large scale in the United States
“Right now, in the United States, that is the only processing plant that is dedicated to processing just edamame,” said Mulberry Mayor Gary Baxter. “That’s why we say we’re the edamame capital. That’s how we come up with that.”
Mulberry markets itself as a healthy community and the edamame capital of the U.S., and began holding its yearly Edamame Festival in 2014 - all results of the opening of the edamame plant, Baxter said.
Opening the plant was part of a more than 18-month collaboration between the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture, the City of Mulberry and plant owner Jing-Yan Chung.
Farmers in Pope, Crawford, White and Faulkner counties grow a strain of edamame imported by Chung, called JYC2, and a strain developed by soybean breeder Pengyin Chen with the UA Division of Agriculture.
In 2012, the UA edamame strain was named the UA Kirksey Edamame after Joe Kirksey, an esteemed Mulberry native who sat on the boards of numerous soybean and agriculture associations.
UA Kirksey is the first edamame vegetable soybean variety developed in the United States and licensed for commercial production, and is the primary variety used by AVSE for its products.
AVSE has multiple edamame products available in multiple flavors, and are expected to introduce some new products in the near future, Baxter said.
“They’re not just producing one product - that same product over and over - they’re constantly developing new products that they are making from edamame,” Baxter said.
JYC International, founded by Chung, is the parent company for AVSE. JYC is an import and export company aimed at trading products between the U.S. and Asian countries, particularly China and Japan.
Edamame, a soybean harvested at the peak of ripening, is rich in protein, dietary fiber and micronutrients, and is considered to be both a protein and a vegetable. The majority of AVSE products are organic, and the edamame is grown in irrigated soil.
Edamame has previously only been produced on a large scale in China, but it has become more cost effective to produce the plant in the United States, Chung said in a previous interview.
“Every package and everything they’re producing has got ‘Mulberry, Ark.’ on the package,” Baxter said. “People like to know what they’re eating, where it’s been made, where it comes from.
Baxter wants Arkansas to be known for edamame, he said.
“Like Idaho potatoes, Washington apples - we’ve got Arkansas edamame,” Baxter said.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who spoke at the opening of the edamame plant, often includes edamame products processed in Mulberry in a collection of items produced in Arkansas that he takes on his national and international travels.
“The edamame plant has impacted Mulberry not only directly, but indirectly through marketing and where the product is marketed, and that brings value to any community,” Baxter said.
AVSE and its products also have had a cultural impact on Mulberry.
Edamame’s healthy nature along with Mulberry’s many natural features were incorporated into Baxter’s ideas of how to market the city, he said.
“When I realized what a healthy product edamame was … it just came to my mind - a healthy product to eat, with healthy parks, I just put it all together that this should be a healthy community,” Baxter said. “We want people to be outside exercising, we want them to eat healthy and we want them to live healthy.”
Mulberry currently is working on developing its seventh public park and has an ongoing sidewalk project that is meant to provide safe travel from residential areas of the city to the Mulberry City Park on U.S. 64.
Mulberry also benefits fiscally from having AVSE in the city.
Between 40 and 60 jobs were expected to be created within the first three years of opening of the 32,000-square-foot plant, part of a requirement for the company that was determined during negotiations.
“They had to guarantee when they came on board that they would have at least 51 full time jobs all the time, and then they would have the additional seasonal jobs,” Baxter said.
Mulberry receives revenues produced by the increased property tax collected on the plant location and from city water sold to the plant, Baxter said. Chung refused a recommendation from his lawyers to receive a tax incentive from the city, Baxter said.
“They have been an outstanding partner in Mulberry,” Baxter said. “I think that’s of value, to know this is a type of ownership that is community oriented.”