George Washington Carver
George Washington Carver, was a leader in American resource conservation. Few people in history practiced the idea of thrift by conservation better than George Washington Carver; his philosophy was "Throw nothing away, everything can be used again." Many knew Carver as the "peanut man" because he transformed this legume into a major agricultural product, but few recognized his greater achievements. Besides the 300 products he developed from peanuts and 118 products from the sweet potato, he developed many new products from waste materials, including recycled oil, and paints and stains from clay. Throughout his life he practiced the ethic of preservation, inventing the science of ersatz, or substitutes.
Born into slavery in 1864, orphaned, then bought for the price of a horse, Carver conquered overwhelming odds to secure an education. In 1896, he became a teacher who was devoted to his students and imbued them with a sense that there is value in all things.
As a scientist, Carver adapted and transformed discarded materials into new, valuable resources, thus opening up possibilities for the development of industries that would make the lives of his fellow human beings more comfortable and secure. He investigated the use of millions of tons of cellulose and lignin that were being discarded yearly and turned these waste products into invaluable materials, such as marble, wallboards, and road cover. He preached, "Find new uses for this waste and thus enlarge the usefulness of the product for mankind."
Carver saw people all around him impoverished and in need of many things with no way to acquire them. Using soil starved of nutrients from years of cotton farming, he invented over one thousand items of food, clothing, and building material - from new food products to furniture stains. Of this era, he stated:
"At no period in our history is it more important that every acre, yea, every foot of land be made to produce its highest possible yield. It is equally important that everything possible be saved for our consumption. The shortage of tin cans, glass containers, the high price of sugar as well as the containers, make it emphatic that we have some other method within the reach of the humblest citizen."
To compensate for the lack of animal waste available as fertilizer, he used two methods of fertilizing: in the fall he plowed under velvet beans, cowpeas, and grass as a green fertilizer; in the spring he plowed under, wheat, oat, and rye. Through this ingenious method, he revitalized fields once depleted of nutrients and made the soil fertile again.
One of Carver's basic beliefs was that nature "has a way of evening things out" because it creates no waste. He illustrated that the mastery of economic plant life and the maintenance of soils comes from finding useful purposes for all things. He noted that failure resulted when farmers did not seize the opportunity to convert waste materials into new resources, and proved his point by demonstrating that compost piles could be made with paper, rags, grass, weeds, street sweepings and anything else that decays quickly.
This American genius influenced botany, mycology, and many forms of agriculture with his way of transmuting waste into wealth. He loved nature passionately, understood the importance of service to human welfare, disregarded conventional pleasures, and exhibited no interest in financial reward Carver told his students:
Young people, I want to beg of you always keep your eyes open to what Mother Nature has to teach you. By so doing you will learn many valuable things every day of your life.
Carver, a black man, did not see the color of his skin as a barrier in the segregated South of a century ago. He assisted people of any race because he believed that "to bring happiness to others brings happiness to oneself." The final act of generosity from this quiet, resourceful, hard-working genius came in the form of a bequest to the Tuskegee Institute: his entire savings ($30,000), which he earmarked for the study of soil fertility and the continued creation of useful products from waste materials.
George Washington Carver was a visionary who realized that the management of our waste should be part of the conservation of our resources.
Dr. George Washington Carver serves as a champion of conservation and invention. Carver was motivated by a deep and abiding concern for the welfare of their country and its people. It is time we follow these leaders. Much still can be learned from Dr. Carver by his profound reverence for the land.
Copyright Rob Arner - All Rights Reserved.
graphic design: WebGraphics