On an unseasonably warm day in February about 200 high and middle school youth experienced the life of George Washington Carver. On February 15, 2018, University of Maryland Extension, Baltimore County 4-H Educators Vernelle Mitchell-Hawkins and Dwayne Murphy led the day with the help of many supporting partners. The morning was set aside for high school youth to simulate key points from Carver’s career. Students from Benjamin Franklin High School and George Washington Carver High School were in attendance for the morning session.
Coming off of buses, students were excited to be in a beautiful open space of pastures, grass, barns at the Baltimore County Center for Maryland Agriculture and Farm Park, fondly known as the Ag Center. This facility was used on this day as a learning space filled with hands-on activities, animals, books, teachers, scientists, and volunteers. The groups were divided and some went to the Horse Arena to learn from University of Maryland Extension Soil Nutrient Management Advisor Erika Crowl as she shared Agri-science concepts about the dairy industry. Erika began by teaching the students that Extension is the community education portion of the Land-Grant Universities like University of Maryland. She then related the Extension concept to George Washington Carver’s work with the traveling Jesup Agricultural Wagon. This wagon was known as a “movable school” used for teaching and sharing knowledge from the local University with the community to improve farms.
Two dairy calves greeted the youth at the entrance of the arena – just like what may have been seen in the 1800’s when Carver was traveling to farms. In Erika’s session, students learned about the components of milk and what products can be made from cows. They also got to make butter using real cream and conducted a taste test of the final product. Interestingly, Carver has been credited for making a milk type product from peanuts and as a substitute for cow’s milk.
Next, the youth went to the Romney Cheviot Mix sheep that live at the Ag Center to learn about other products that Carver would have helped farmers produce. This included a discussion about the importance and uses for wool. They also learned about animal behavior and how to take care of sheep. From the sheep they went on to a session presented by University of Maryland Extension Plant Pathologist, Andy Kness who talked about what he does as an Agricultural Agent. Much like Carver, Andy is our “Plant Doctor” as George Washington Carver was also fondly called. The students got to play a plant vs. pathogen simulation game and learned all about how plant cells work to fight against bacteria. Andy discussed the impact of disease on plants and how it affects other parts of the food chain.
As the group moved from the Arena to the Exhibit Barn, students stopped and saw the week old chicks that are also in residence at the Ag Center. This provided a valuable teachable moment about life cycle as well as proper growing conditions of animals.
These are all concepts that would have been discussed on the Jesup Wagon in Carver’s day. Inside the Exhibit Barn the Baltimore County Library conducted a discussion about the life of George Washington Carver and the many books written about him. In addition, to his work in the sciences, Carver was a gifted artist and studied art at Simpson College in Iowa in 1890. It was through this experience of drawing and painting botanical samples that he was encouraged to enroll in the Botany program at the Iowa State Agricultural College. The youth enjoyed examples of his artwork. As a memorial to his artistic life and belief in reusing materials, the participants made flowers from recycled comic books. This craft was chosen to represent and remember the fact that Carver always work a flower in the lapel of his jacket.
As the students moved into the main room of the Ag Center’s main building, they had many stations to choose from to learn more about agricultural science and George Washington Carver’s contributions to society. One of the stations featured real cotton still on the plant. At this station students learned about King Cotton and how the Boll Weevil devastated the crop in the 1800’s. Carver actively promoted alternative crops to cotton and taught several methods to prevent soil depletion. The youth got to see microscopic samples of various fibers from cotton to wool to synthetics to learn about their different properties. Leading this station was Alex Smith, a volunteer for the day from Tree Baltimore.
There was also a station headed by Alexa Smarr, University of Maryland Extension Horticulturist and Master Gardener Coordinator. She taught students about the nutritional benefits of eating insects for a low cost high yield form of protein. Students had the opportunity to try from a number of different kinds of insects including such as pizza flavored crickets, mango silkworms, basil mealworms, and others. Over 250 insects were eaten during the event. As a plant doctor Carver worked to help plants that were infested with various kinds of insects. He also worked to help people find food sources that were affordable and nutritious.
Another favorite station was the storm water runoff simulation. Youth working with University of Maryland Extension Watershed Restoration Specialist Kelsey Brooks learned how the various layers beneath the ground are affected by both water and pollutants. A hands-on experiment was conducted by all the youth that went through this enlightening station. George Washington Carver was a steward of the land and was instrumental in educating southern farmers on the practice of crop rotation. He was especially known for teaching about rotating the cotton crops with peanut plants to aid restoring nitrogen to the soil.
There was a beekeeper station that was taught by MARC volunteer Devra Kitterman, who shared about honey making, pollination and the value of bees in agriculture. She had honey bee boxes on site and shared how bees play a part in the larger ecosystem.
Additionally, there was also a soybean station set up for students to explore. At this station they learned in a “shell game” style activity that soybeans have become a major crop in the food system and is found in many common food items. Wes Jamison, Gayle Ensor and Mimi Colson Leaning from Maryland Agricultural Resource Council volunteered at this station. They also shared information about how Carver conducted research on the soybean plant and created dozens of new uses for the plant including plastics for cars, foods, home products and plant based gasoline. They also offered samples of Wow Butter, a peanut butter substitute made from soybeans butter.
Christine Allred, a 4-H Educator from St. Mary’s County shared about beans, their anatomy and growth. Youth had a chance to do their own discoveries with beans using iodine to bring out the characteristics of the beans. This experiment illustrated to students how Carver’s work to prove that beans are a good source of starchy nutrition. Martha Pindale from American Landscape Institute was also on hand to share information about Landscaping and Horticulture as a viable career path for anyone interested in following in the footsteps of Carver.
Last but not least was food preservation. George Washington Carver also did work in the area of home economics and safe food preservation. To simulate this area of his research, youth made their own strawberry preserves. Dr. Shauna Henley, Family and Consumer Science Educator for University of Maryland Extension taught the youth many aspects of food safety and preservation of food. She taught almost 200 people how to safely make jam using fresh strawberries and research based canning techniques.
The high school youth at George Washington Carver were student mentors in the afternoon sessions with middle schoolers helping out in the various stations. They gave hands-on support to our educators and help make the afternoon run more smoothly. Just as Carver himself, who took his experiments and teaching on the road to farmers with the “Jesup wagon” the students that helped to bring agricultural education and the life of Carver to youth from around the area came out away from their school to share their new found knowledge.