Monday, February 7, 2011

This Child Was The Original Slow Food, Organic Revolutionizer

I'll bet you know the story of a child who was born into slavery in the 1860s but whose extraordinary gift for communing with plants brought him great fame, only to be later stuck in history books in a dry, boring manner that fails to celebrate his true genius. Though he is honored today as being a "chemist" and something of an inventor, this child really opened entire fields of study for Americans and introduced hundreds of new products, all from natural sources. Today he should be heralded as the ultimate "slow food" director and the quintessential "think global, act local" hero. The great "organic naturalist." He really started the movement.

As a child, young orphaned George was said to have played not with other children but alone in his woodland garden. He cobbled together tossed out window panes and bits of garbage to create cold frames where he nurtured young plants to life. He even "healed" sick plants and explained to his caregivers that he was going to his "garden hospital and take care of hundreds of sick plants." Eventually people began to see that he really was healing plants and they brought him their sick houseplants and garden plants--all of which thrived after George got hold of them.

As an adult, George was recruited by Booker T. Washington to work on the faculty of Tuskegee Institute (later Tuskegee University) in Alabama, where he first set up a laboratory to study the health of the soil. A very pious young man, George dubbed his lab "God's Little Workshop," and here he brought his students to learn to "listen" to the plants.

George was the first--I repeat, the first--in Alabama to create garden compost to benefit the health of the soil. This was at the turn of the century when early chemical fertilizers were being heralded as miracles for vegetables. But George understood the chemicals made people sick and could not possibly help a growing vegetable reach its mineral potential. When the results were measured, George was finally recognized as the brilliant agriculturalist he was. Now, instead of being referred to as George, born into slavery, he was called, respectfully, by his full name: George Washington Carver.

We all know from our dry textbooks that Mr. Carver worked miracles with peanuts: he discovered their protein value and pulled seven different oils from the nut and eventually made hundreds of patentable products from them (though he never, unfortunately ((pun intended)) pulled patents on any of his discoveries). But we're probably all surprised to learn that he revolutionized the use and appreciation of sweet potatoes. Let alone his accomplishments in chemistry and war-time inventions, Mr. Carver is single-handedly responsible for introducing the sweet potato as a delicious and nutritious food source to the American diet.

He did much more than I can print here in this blog. But my point is this: never underestimate what you have to offer to the world. Each of us is brilliant and has a unique gift to share. You may consider yourself "unimportant" as did many slaves and descendants in the 1890s, whose work and contributions went neglected, especially in the south. You may even be told you are unimportant--as was George Washington Carver. As was Martin Luther King Jr. As were Booker T. Washington and Ida B. Wells.

But these people didn't let that stop them. They listened not to what other people said of them, but only to what their hearts said.

Here's a little inspiration for today: go out and listen to your heart.


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