Black History Month is the means through which many are first introduced to the accomplishments of Black statesmen, writers, artists, and scientists in the United States. Among them is George Washington Carver, a man whose contributions to the agricultural community helped to create the peanut industry that we are lucky to be a part of today.
But Carver’s work extended far beyond peanuts. He conducted research and made advances that benefited a number of crops including cotton and sweet potatoes. He was an educator that inspired a generation of scientists at the Tuskegee Institute. Even more interesting is his fascination with the natural world, and the sense of wonderment he conveys through his writing and art (he was an accomplished painter too).
In honor of Black History Month, and in the spirit of learning more about the giants we’ve previously studied, it's our pleasure to share an essay Carver wrote for the Cornell Countryman in 1907. In this piece, he champions gardens as a means of teaching young people about all manner of things, from arithmetic and accounting, to marketing, chemistry, and even the scientific method.
School and community gardens are ideas that have “taken root” and are some of the most successful progressive educational and community-building programs in existence.
By sharing this piece, we hope to share another part of Carver’s story, one that many people probably haven’t come across, and we hope to inspire others to dig deeper and learn more about the Black leaders that have shaped our history and society.
The Value of Nature Study and Children’s Gardens
From The Cornell Countryman, May 1907
By George W. Carver – Director Tuskegee Experiment Station, Tuskegee, Ala.
From my earliest recollections I have been thrilled as little by little the truth pertaining to the common things about me began to unfold. I was the happy discoverer of new worlds and strange creations almost daily. How wonderful and inspiring it all was to me, and is none the less now.
Who has not watched with delight the children as they dug up the earth with their toy set of garden tools, set a few plants, of imperfectly planted a few seed. With what joy and satisfaction they called it their garden and hailed the coming harvest with delight, despite the fact that daily pilgrimages were made and some of the seed dug up to see if they were sprouting. This is but an indication of the child’s love of nature.
Prof. L. H. Bailey says that nature study “is seeing the things which one looks at. And the drawing of proper conclusions from what one sees.”
Since the majority of individuals in any large community must earn their livelihood in rural pursuits, it would, therefore, seem wise to educate in that direction. To those engaging in any other profession whatsoever, a knowledge of the common things about them will give a fund of information and education strength that nothing else will, and serve to better fit them for their particular specialty.
There is probably no agent more productive of interest than children’s gardens, which embody almost if not quite every phase of practical rural nature study. If properly presented new revelations and discoveries will constantly be unfolding before the pupil, increasing his enthusiasm and gradually enlarging his educational horizon.
Soon the child learns to look upon the garden as any other class room, except that it is more delightful, instructive and entertaining. He here, not only selects and lays off his individual plot, which is to be all his own, but learns why this spot is selected for the garden, and another rejected, which to him seems much superior to the first. He is now ready to become acquainted with new tools and a more skillful use of the old, which reduces labor, increase his earning capacity, each of which cannot help but encourage him to go forward. In the preparation of soil, new problems arise, he naturally begins to classify soils by placing them in groups according to their physical composition, color, texture, etc., e.g. clays, loams, sand, gravel, and rocky soils are accurately determined. He will also note that some of these soils are much more easy to plow, spade or hoe, he will seek the reason why.
A Children’s Garden (photo from Carver’s original essay)
The selection of seed and the glories of testing them come next. He here learns valuable lessons as to the kind, quality and quantity to plant. In numerable lessons as to how plants grow and feed will be ever before him with in creating interest. Some of the knotty problems in figures can be greatly simplified; the child can easily understand that if he plants 100 seeds and 50 grow that it equals one half or 50% and if 75 grow it equals three fourths or 75% of the whole number planted.
The mysteries of planting are now before him. What a splendid opportunity to study the effects of heat, light, moisture, etc. Cultivation and harvesting now claim their share of the interest and many and varied are the problems they will suggest as the exercises progress.
Marketing may be considered the climax. While it is true all of the other operations have taught their lessons and have been full of interest up to this point from beginning to end, nothing inspires and encourages like the beginning or swelling of a bank account, or the prompt payment of a debt which becomes due as a consequence of business operations. With what enthusiasm the child watches the growth of the cred side of its garden business.
Among the many valuable things enumerated as well as the many more unsaid, we have observed none more helpful and far reaching than the influence of this garden work in the homes of many of the children. Not infrequently, expressions come to us from grateful parents telling how enthusiastically their children are working and studying the little corner given them for their garden.
Aside from mechanical skill the child gets the most valuable of all pedagogical truths, e.g. close observations, correct thinking and logical conclusions.
The average individual appreciates a thing in direct proportions to his knowledge of it. Ignorance has its diversions that entertain for a while but they soon become tiresome.
I think I make no exaggeration when I predict, that if a small plot of ground, (a window garden if nothing better can be had) were set apart, properly directed by a competent teacher, who would unfold before the child’s wondering eyes the glories of plant and animal life, and the mysteries of mineral existence. Thousands of the brightest and test of the youths of our land would delight to remain, improve and beautify the old homestead; a corresponding number would hail with delight the opportunity to leave the crowded city where there is always such a struggle for existence.
We would no longer see thousands of acres of land, desecrated, abandoned to the wild brier, the thorn and the thistle, but in their stead every acre would be made to product a hundred fold, even greater than that of their virgin fertility.
Let us hope that nature study will continue to grow and flourish until the fullest measure of the almost limitless possibilities of this ideal method of teaching is realized.
In honor of Black History Month 2022, Peanut Butter & Co has made a donation to Metro Atlanta Urban Farm