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The Legacy of George Washington Carver

July 24, 2020
by Greg Georgaklis

When I was not quite ten years old, I received a book that deeply influenced me: A Weed Is A Flower: The Life of George Washington Carver, written and illustrated by Aliki. There was so much that I gathered from that picture book, about a curious, humble scientist and inventor with outstanding strength of character. In his lifetime (1860-1943), George Washington Carver experienced the tremendous challenges of slavery, poverty and the loss of his parents. Still, he became an inspiring and successful individual who advanced the lives of many.  

Dr. Carver was the first black student at Iowa State and later on became the first black faculty member. He went on to head the Agriculture Department at Tuskagee Institute for 47 years. As a researcher and teacher, Dr. Carver taught methods of crop rotation, introduced cash crops for farmers to improve the soil in areas heavily cultivated by cotton, and taught generations of black students and farmers how to farm for self-sufficiency.

As a young child, I was moved by Carver’s contributions to lift fellow African Americans out of poverty through his research, inventions and determination. In my own adult life, as a farmer and working with farmers, the longevity and impact of Carver’s work as a teacher and visionary of a more holistic view of agriculture has become clearer. In the early 20th century, he remarkably saw the greater truth that we are all connected to each other and the natural world.

Dr. Carver, also known to many as the “Plant Doctor,” often remarked that “a weed is a flower.” To me, this is a very clever way of describing the importance of regenerative agriculture! While weeds may not be attractive to many, they build soil, sequester carbon, bring needed nutrients up from the subsoil and retain water. The weeds are part of the diversity of a farm or garden and they tell us so much about soil health, giving us  critical information.

Regenerative Agriculture is a key foundation of Farmers To You. Through supporting farms with practices that rebuild soil such as minimal tilling, maintaining a rich diversity of animals, crops, and wildlife and the use of cover crops we support a healthy earth and people. These farms’ practices move carbon back into the soil from our atmosphere, improve our water cycle by increasing the holding capacity of the soil, and support and increase the farm health and nutrient content of our food.

It is so fitting to recognize the accomplishments and immeasurable impact of George Washington Carver in a time when the Farmers To You team and our partners are focused on reducing climate change, feeding our population and caring for the health of people and earth.  We owe a debt to his pioneering work and teachings that encourage sustainable and regenerative farming practices.

Dr George Washington Carver stands as one of my heroes. He understood the power and importance of seeing all of nature and the farmer as a complete system where even weeds had an important role to play.  Through showing newly freed black slaves how to cultivate abundance and sustainability, he believed that freedom and self-sufficiency was possible. He was a masterful teacher and an inspiration to me. I only hope that we can create the kind of vibrant community that he envisioned all those years ago.

Thank you for letting me share one of my heroes with you.  And as always thank you for supporting our community of families and farmers.

With Gratitude,

Greg