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George Washington Carver (c.1860 – 1943) was a prominent American scientist, inventor, educator, and champion of Black farmers. Carver, whose parents were born enslaved, encouraged farmers to be self-sufficient, to look to the land for what they needed rather than going into debt to buy fertilizer - a practice advocated by ‘scientific agriculture.’ Instead, he taught farmers to use compost and grow cowpeas to restore southern soil that was so badly depleted by cotton.
“With a leguminous crop grown at frequent intervals, the productivity [of the soil] may be maintained or even increased…It is safe to say that no one thing can add more to the agricultural wealth of the South than the more extensive growing of the cowpea.” -George Washington Carver,
From Southern Sharecroppers' Farms to Tables
Carver’s over-arching concern was the widespread malnutrition of southern sharecroppers. During the early 1900’s. Carter taught Black farmers to cook healthy food using crops commonly grown on their land, cowpeas, sweet potatoes, and peanuts. It was an uphill battle, his success even more remarkable given that vitamin research was still in its infancy - even word ‘protein’ was not a commonly understood term. -
Carver was nothing if not determined to demonstrate the versatility and nutritional value of cowpeas. He once invited his Tuskegee University students home for dinner, serving them pancakes, potatoes, and meatloaf, all made from mashed cowpeas. Check out some of his cowpea recipes here.
Source: Vella, C. (2015). George Washington Carver: A Life. Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press.
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