News

George Washington Carver: The Agricultural Genius

By Michael Engle | February 21, 2012

Photo: Maia C

Simple bar snack, M&M filling, a butter to pair with jelly on a sandwich…how many ways could you think to use a peanut?  George Washington Carver found over 300, while cementing the peanut’s legacy as an agricultural good and reestablishing Southern agriculture.

Born in 1864, Carver and his mother were sent to Arkansas by their master, Moses Carver, due to complications arising from owning slaves in Civil War-era Missouri.  When it was learned that George was Moses Carver’s only ex-slave not to have disappeared, Moses bought back George, where he was raised as a free person.  Back in Missouri, young George developed a keen interest in plants and animals, as he often sketched them.  George left home at approximately ten years of age, in pursuit of an education and employment.

Carver finally earned his high school diploma in his late twenties, from a high school in Minneapolis, KS.  Though he had an acceptance to a Kansas university withdrawn because of his race, he was able to enroll at Iowa’s Simpson College.  Carver later transferred to Iowa State Agricultural College, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in agricultural science in 1894, as well as a master’s of science degree two years later.

After his studies at Iowa State, George Washington Carver relocated to Alabama, where he cemented his fame as the head of Tuskegee Institute’s department of agriculture.  At Tuskegee, Carver’s extensive research led to his advocating of crop rotation.  As the southern United States was formerly a single-crop region, having placed all its resources into cotton cultivation, Carver demonstrated the virtues of agricultural diversity.  Though post-Civil War soils were rendered obsolete for cotton, Carver identified peanuts, sweet potatoes, and soybeans as potential cash crops.  Carver identified many benefits to southern lifestyles from these new vegetables, including their roles as new protein sources and as fixers of nitrogen.

Initially, southern farmers saw that these legumes could grow where cotton could no longer survive, but they failed to see any utility for these new crops.  To counter southern indifference, Carver found his famous 300 uses for peanuts, as well as more than another 100 for sweet potatoes.  Carver demonstrated that these new agricultural products could be used to make many household items, including flour, oil, soap, and even postage stamp glue.

Though modern commercialization has gradually placed some of Carver’s southern ingenuity out of use, Carver’s legacy as a scientific genius is secure.  Just as certain food ingredients are prized for their versatility, Carver was a similar innovator with his limitless applications of once-worthless crops.  George Washington Carver is an icon in southern agriculture as well as Black academia; therefore, his accomplishments should be regularly celebrated, whether during Black History Month or otherwise.

For more on Black History Month, follow me on Twitter (@MarcusCooks)

More about: , , ,

You Might Also Like:

Newsletter

Featured Recipe

More Recipes

Meet the Team

About The Team

Whether it’s finding the best goat tacos in LA, spotting a well-worn vintage bag in Sweden, or interviewing the “crab man” selling seafood on a corner in Harlem, we tell stories seen from Chef Marcus Samuelsson‘s point of view. MarcusSamuelsson.com strives to create conversations about food, nutrition, culture, art, and design. We want to find Read More

Restaurants

Red Rooster Harlem
Ginny’s Supper Club
Uptown Brasserie
American Table Cafe and Bar
Kitchen and Table
American Table Brasserie and Bar
Norda
Marc Burger