Celebrating Black History month and National Sweet Potato Month
February is of course, Black History Month; and there are so many ways to honor and reflect on the contributions of African Americans to American agriculture. However, one of the greatest accomplishments in the legacy of Black Farmers and food growers, is healing our relationship with the land and the practice of stewardship. This healing is an ongoing, multi-generational process; but one of the most nurturing influences in this movement is the work of Dr. George Washington Carver.
Dr. Carver, Director of the Agricultural Experiment Station at Tuskegee Institute is most well known for developing over 300 innovative uses for peanuts. However, this was only a tiny fraction of his work as an agricultural chemist, agronomist, educator and humanitarian. He was a pioneer of agroecology, organic practices, food sovereignty, and promoting the benefits of a varied, plant-centric diet.
Born to enslaved parents in 1861, he was deeply committed to improving the circumstances of, “the man farthest down.” In the decades post-emancipation, many newly freed people were tied to supporting their families by sharecropping, or farming on land that had been severely depleted by years of cultivating cotton. Dr. Carver wanted his research to serve the advancement of these forgotten farmers and focused on alternative crops that restore soil fertility, provide diversified economic opportunities, and nourish the body – like peanuts, soybeans, and sweet potatoes.
Between 1898 and 1943 he published 44 free bulletins that shared information on new, high-yielding crop varieties, soil enhancing crops, crop rotation and organic / regenerative practices, how weather and soil conditions impacted the local fruit industry, self-sufficiency measures, and healthy plant-forward meals / recipes. These simple bulletins – intended to provide solutions for the poor “one horse” farmer – ultimately revolutionized the agricultural economy of the southeast.
Among many notable quotes, this one captures the sense of mission that guided his life:
“No individual has any right to come into the world and go out of it without leaving behind him, distinct and legitimate reasons for having passed through it.”
George Washington Carver leaves behind so much more than peanut butter. He charted the path to holistic and sustainable living, forming mutually beneficial relationships with the land and our fellow human beings, and healing wounds left by enslaved labor.
Did you know that, according to NationalToday.com, February is also National Sweet Potato Month? The sweet potato was officially designated the state vegetable of North Carolina in 1995, and is one of our top 10 Agricultural Commodities; but did you know that some of the first records of sweet potato cultivation date back to 750 B.C. in Peru?
Out of thousands of varieties (4000 to date) of native potatoes grown in the Andean highlands of Peru, the orange-fleshed sweet potato was a coveted favorite taken back to Europe from Spanish expeditions to the Americas.
The combination of natural sugar, vibrant color, satiating fiber and versatility made this tropical root tuber a treasured delicacy throughout Europe and China during the 16th century. Although it wasn’t a sustainable crop in the cooler, damp climate of northern European countries, by the mid 17th century it was being cultivated in the English colony we know as our neighboring state of Virginia.
Farmer Foodshare is proud to offer sweet potatoes from family farmer, Gary Wise of Wise Farms in Mount Olive, NC!
Enjoy local sweet potatoes and try one of George Washington Carver’s 32 recipes for this wonderful root vegetable.
No. 26, SWEET POTATO MUFFINS
“Boil until thoroughly done a sweet potato weighing about 3/4 of a pound; mash very fine; pass through colander to free it from lumps; add to it a large tablespoonful of butter and a little salt; whip well, now add 1/2 cupful of milk and two well beaten eggs and flour enough to make a soft batter, which will be about two cupfuls. Before adding the flour sift into it one teaspoon of baking powder. Bake in muffin rings or gem pans.”
From: Bulletin No. 38 – How the Farmer Can Save His Sweet Potatoes: And Ways of Preparing It for the Table, Published February 2, 1922