The Ground Work series shares the perspectives of U.S. soybean farmers as they observe how the U.S. Soy industry lays the groundwork to grow innovative, reliable and sustainable solutions for people and communities around the world.  

Although I live and farm in Hampton, Iowa, in the heart of the U.S. Midwest, I have family near Austin, Texas. Previous visits hadn’t prepared me for my most recent trip.

In mid-March, I traveled the roughly 1,000 miles, or about 1,600 kilometers, south by southwest from my Iowa farm to the South by Southwest (SXSW) Festival held in Austin.

While I knew I didn’t know what to expect, I had no idea the festival encompasses all of downtown Austin. It was easy to get completely immersed — and a little lost — in everything that the SXSW conference offers.

The event brings together a diverse group of people across industries and interests like technology, film, energy, marketing, music and more. The goal is to foster unexpected ideas and collaboration to move everyone forward. It thrives in Austin, a city known to embrace the weird and unexpected.

I joined two other farmers who serve alongside me on the United Soybean Board to share how U.S. Soy provides real, sustainable solutions to a wide variety of industries. While some people may say society has problems, I say soy has solutions!

I love to share the story of my farm, its sustainability and the value the crops I raise provide. It’s a privilege to represent thousands of farmers like me from around the country. And, I don’t mind being outside my comfort zone. That made SXSW an incredible experience.

I attended networking sessions, presentations and the panels organized by U.S. Soy. Whenever I introduced myself as a farmer, faces lit up and fellow attendees asked me lots of questions. The creative, diverse group of people at SXSW don’t know farmers personally, but they sincerely want to understand what we do.

And all sorts of people want to actually connect with farmers. I discussed regenerative agriculture with a surgeon who has ties to the land and also with an investment fund manager. I talked about renewable fuels with people working in NASCAR. And I answered questions from podcasters, influencers and media members from around the United States and even Great Britain.  

I gladly shared how my farm has been in my family for 125 years. Everything I do focuses on keeping the soil healthy and the water clean. I talked about how soy is used to make tires, sneakers and asphalt. In most things made with petroleum, soy can be a sustainable alternative.

My examples echoed those highlighted by our panelists, who came to SXSW at their own expense to tell more people how soy-based products help them solve real sustainability challenges in construction and personal care products. They were genuinely excited to tell more business leaders and creative thinkers about the value of sustainable U.S. Soy solutions. That highlighted products like:

  • Soy-based wood glue in plywood.
  • Soy-based paint.
  • Soy-based fabric.
  • Soy-based ingredients in skin care products.
  • And countless others.

Sustainability was one of the key themes across SXSW, and these leaders are champions for the sustainable solutions available from U.S. Soy. Most SXSW attendees weren’t aware that soybeans, grown on farms like mine across our country, can provide practical solutions for their industries.

Meeting with this diverse group of people energized me to keep sharing about the sustainable solutions U.S. Soy provides — especially in places outside my comfort zone.

Iowa farmer and United Soybean Board director April Hemmes visited with people from many different industries at South by Southwest (SXSW), including panelists from U.S. Soy sessions about sustainable solutions in the entertainment industry and personal care.