I was enamored with the work of George Washington Carver long before the Old Gardening Party (OGP) began keeping the world safe for children, gardening and storytelling. Carver, an amazing African-American agricultural scientist, rejected lucrative offers from Ford and Edison to continue his work at Alabama’s Tuskegee Institute. Popular memory will recall that the man made 300 products from peanuts.
The bigger story is that he helped raise up southern farm fields after the Civil War, which had been totally depleted from continuous cotton cultivation. Poor farmers, black and white, couldn’t afford fertilizer or cow manure to add needed nitrogen to their soil, so Carver encouraged them to grow legumes, especially peanuts. Unlike most crops, legumes restore nitrogen to the earth, rather than using it up to grow.
So everyone raised peanuts, and a new problem surfaced: there was no market for the massive peanut influx.
Carver gulped: “I replenished the soil, and caused bigger difficulties.”
Retreating prayerfully to his laboratory, he created 300 unlikely peanut derivatives, from peanut oil to shoe polish, so farmers could take their crop to market.
When the OGP started, we created “the principle of Carverativity,” saying if Carver could create 300 products from the simple peanut, we should be able to manufacture a myriad of other solutions, especially for things wasting the environment and her people.
It’s one reason I connected early with the Sweet Potato Comfort Pie effort, led by my Golden Valley storyteller friend, Rose McGee. Rose had been selling sweet potato pies, “the sacred dessert of Black Culture,” as extra income. When the shootings in Ferguson happened, she loaded pies in her car and drove to Missouri to give them as comfort to people needing a boost.
Media covered it, and now each year, just before the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., scores of people collaborate to bake the number of sweet potato pies that would equal the age of King, were he still living. On the next day, King’s “I have a dream” legacy is celebrated, and pies walk out one-by-one to give their respective boosts.
Few know of Carver’s own special sweet potato pie recipe, as well as his numerous sweet potato applications, so southern farmers could sell that crop as well. Even more hidden was King’s concern about the War in Vietnam.
On April 4, 1967, at Riverside Church in New York, he said, “I had great hope when LBJ launched his Great Society. Now I see, we will never end poverty and racism ‘till we stop sending our youth to kill poor people, mainly of color, worldwide.”
Too many descendants of Carver’s “poor farmers” are going into the military because it’s the best job available to them. Military budgets continue to rise, despite every 2016 presidential candidate agreeing it was wrong to go into Iraq. The recent Afghanistan Papers, reminiscent of the 1960s Pentagon Papers, point markedly to Eisenhower’s line “Every missile launched is a theft from the poor.”
The OGP advocates for foreign policy based on meditative pulling of weeds by hand, rather than spray bombing with poisons that kill both the weeds and the health of our food. It is time we use the “Principle of Carverativity,” pull the weeds of evil and injustice (instead of letting loose bombs of despair) with strategic boosts of care.
International law, Geneva Conventions, calls civilian deaths a war crime; Christianity’s “Just War Doctrine” says a war is just if no civilians are harmed. The OGP asks war planners to start with Carverativity intention to honestly follow those principles we already say we believe. Horrors of war, including for veterans, would decrease exponentially, multiplying resources for caring, not killing.