Visitors to the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture's Vegetable Research Station field day June 30 will learn how to grow, cook and eat  edamame, which is being investigated as a potential new crop for the Arkansas River Valley.

Dennis Motes, station director, said the field day has become a popular event for gardeners and vegetable farmers. Visitors tour field research plots and hear presentations on growing tips and vegetable dish recipes. Educational booths and activities for children will be provided. Registration is at 8:30 a.m. and events conclude with lunch.

The field day tour will include research plots where Division of Agriculture soybean breeder Pengyin Chen, who is based on the university campus in Fayetteville, is developing improved varieties of edamame, or vegetable soybeans. The breeding program is supported by the Arkansas Soybean Promotion Board, which administers the Arkansas soybean producer's check-off program.

Joyce Whittington, chair of the Crawford County office of the Cooperative Extension Service, will demonstrate edamame preparation at the field day. "I have some plants in my garden, and I buy packages of frozen edamame. I just love it," she said.

Edamame is rich in carbohydrates and protein and is a good source of fiber, omega-3 fatty acids and micronutrients. It has been a popular food in East Asia for hundreds of years.

Green edamame pods are boiled or steamed and seasoned with salt and spices. Served cold with a meal or as a snack, edamame is eaten by popping the beans from the pod into the mouth. Shelled beans are also used in salads, soups, stews and dips or mixed with other vegetables.

Hank Chaney, Faulkner County Extension staff chair, is spearheading the task force on edamame's potential as a River Valley crop, which also includes Lanny Ashlock, Division of Agriculture assistant vice president, and Kelly Cartwright, who owns ARI, Inc., an agricultural research and development/consulting company in Fayetteville, along with Motes and Chen.

The task force is working with WinRock International, among others, to bring commercial edamame production to the area.

Chen said edamame varieties from Taiwan and China can be grown in Arkansas, but that he has an advanced breeding line that is better adapted to Arkansas growing conditions and produces higher yields.

In an edamame variety test at the Vegetable Research Station, three imported varieties are being grown alongside plots of Chen's Arkansas breeding lines.

"Our breeding objectives include a large bean, high sugar content, the right texture and high yield under Arkansas growing conditions," Chen said.

An edamame bean should be twice as big as a "commodity" soybean. "The bean we have now is about three-quarters as big as the Chinese edamame, which is okay, and we will continue to increase the size," Chen said, by further crossbreeding.

The Arkansas breeding line meets the main flavor requirement of high sugar, or sucrose, content, Chen said. Sensory evaluation is being conducted to determine if the texture and flavor of his edamame are appropriate.

In addition to the standard green edamame, Chen has made crosses to produce black and purple beans. The dark colors have been associated with higher antioxidant content.

Chen's edamame project is part of a comprehensive soybean breeding program that includes development of improved commodity soybean varieties well adapted to Arkansas growing conditions. In addition to his edamame plots, Chen also has plots at the Vegetable Research Station of a high-yielding, late-maturing line being tested for potential release as a new commodity soybean variety in 2012.

The Vegetable Research Station is at Kibler, about 8 miles southwest of Alma on Thornhill Street. Research is conducted on 87 acres of irrigated land on vegetable crops and row crops. Driving directions are online here.