Soy House showcased at the Royal Winter Fair

by Sarah Moore

Soy house and fake plastic cars

The air was filled with a combination of aromas. Some were tantalizing and pleasant, such as the dinner being prepared at the Foods of the World stand.  Others were slightly less appealing, when paired with mooing cattle and neighing horses.

Whether delightful, or nose crinkling, the smells emulating from the 87th annual Royal Winter Fair in Toronto may not have immediately made you think of the many possible uses for the food and agricultural waste.

But nestled within the livestock pens, petting zoo, and butter-sculpting competition, was the Agri-Food Innovation Showcase, which is a collection of exhibits showcasing many interesting uses for the food and waste that we see and smell everyday.

Take the Soy House, for example, presented by Ontario’s soybean farmers, Quality Homes, Habitat for Humanity, and Soy 20/20. It was a 1,200 square foot homemade largely from soy and soy-based products. At first glance it looks like any other single storey home, except that the furniture, linens, insulation, paint, countertops and much more were all made from some form of soy product.

Though the materials in the home look as aesthetically pleasing as those made from traditional materials, they are also more energy efficient to produce.

“There’s less energy needed to make this [soy based] countertop compared to, lets say, a countertop using petroleum based tops,” said Murray Booth, business development manager for Soy 20/20, a project aimed at creating new opportunities for soy use.

From a house made of soy, to plastic car parts reinforced with cow dung or wheat straw, the Royal Winter Fair displayed some ambitious and environmentally friendly projects promoting a greener future.

With oil prices rising, traditional fuel sources dwindling and plastic bags now coming with a price tag attached, pressure has been mounting to pursue “green” alternatives to traditional products and resources.

“Renewable and biodegradable materials are definitely huge and the use of these sources are increasing,” said Randy Ragan of the University of Guelph’s BioCar Initiative exhibit. “A lot of these organic materials or biodegradable materials are from local sources so it reduces your transportation costs and it takes less energy to make the product.”

Government has been making attempts to be more environmentally friendly as well, most notably with the passing of the Ontario Green Act legislation this past spring. But some of the exhibitors at the fair felt that the government has been all talk and very little action.

“They are talking the talk but not walking the walk,” said Booth, of Soy 20/20. “The government is saying, ‘Yeah, we’d like you to use green products,’ but they aren’t doing anything to drive the economy to do that. They need to do more.”

Critics say the Canadian government also seems to be falling behind its southern neighbours when it comes to who can be greener.

“The U.S. is much further ahead than us,” Booth said. “If the [Canadian government] would subside companies [for their contributions to renewable energy] it would make things a lot easier.”

Booth explained that the United States government gives companies the ability to receive money back for using green products and that there is no such initiative in Canada.

Booth also mentioned that the auto giant, Ford just announced that it has teamed up with researchers from universities across Ontario to become the first automaker to develop and use plastic reinforced with wheat straw, similar to the work being done at the BioCar Initiative.

“The goal is for this type of thing to become more common in the future, “ Ragan said.  “Using bio-products or waste, like stocks from organic material, to create a substitute for plastics keeps Co2 out of the air and generates a product that is sturdy and renewable.”

The Royal Winter Fair has been renewing traditions for 87 years, and also looking toward the future. The sights and smells of the fair may be nothing more than sensory at first, but after visiting the Agri-Food Innovation Showcase, you may never look at cow dung or soy the same again.

As for the soy house, not only is it innovative and livable, but it contributes to charity as well.

“Once the show’s over it’s going to be donated to Habitat for Humanity and some needy family is going to get this nice house in Acton,” Booth said, beaming with pride.