GOLDEN VALLEY, Minn. - People choose their retirement homes for all sorts of reasons. But it's less about the retirement part than the work space for George Ewing.
"This is the workshop," Ewing says proudly as he enters the resident's wood shop at Covenant Village in Golden Valley. "
For 36 years George worked as an engineer at General Mills, but it wasn't until he retired that his found his true passion. "Oh yeah, this is great," he proclaims as he cranks the handle a hand-built peanut shelling device. "This is the machine I'm working on right now."
George explains that only unbroken, shelled, peanuts will grow when planted. To achieve such a nut, Africans, often women, are tasked with shelling peanuts by hand.
If his work is successful, Ewing hopes it will someday help Africans grow food.
An 81-year-old retiree, with a homemade contraption, helping Africans? Certainly he must be dreaming. He certainly is - and George Ewing has been for 30 years.
It was George who, in 1981, came up with the idea for Compatible Technology International, a Twin Cities based non-profit that's taken simple designs, like a pedal-powered potato slicer, to the poorest regions of the world, often with no electrical power.
In India sliced potatoes mean a farmer can dry them, store them and sell his potatoes any time of the year.
The potato slicer was an early CTI success. Others have followed.
Many poor families in Africa still grind grain with a pestle and mortar, a long heavy stick pounded into a round-bottomed-pail.
Ewing came up with hand cranked grinder that does the work faster and with less waste. It's now known internationally as the Ewing Grider.
"In an hour we can produce what would take a woman eight hours to do," says Bert Rivers, VP of operations for CTI. Nearby on a counter sit 20 Ewing Grinders being readied for shipment to Haiti. They'll be added to the hundreds already in service around the globe.
But Ewing's hands do not work alone. Some three-dozen retired engineers, agriculture professors and farmers volunteer time at CTI. Working alone and in teams they've come up with simple millet strippers and grain winnowers that are now in use in countries on the other side of the globe.
Winnowing is the process by which grain is separated from chaff. In some villages it was still done by pouring grain from bucket to bucket on a windy day - until CTI came up with an inexpensive hand-cranked alternative.
Ewing loved working for General Mills, but he engineered something special for retirement. "I know it's important at General Mills to make a profit for the stockholder," he says, "but here you're improving people at a basic level.
All of which explains why Ewing had to find a retirement home with a shop: so he has someplace to work when he's not at CTI working.
For when George Ewing leaves for the day with a box full of peanuts, you can bet your life he's not taking them home for a snack.
(Copyright 2012 by KARE. All Rights Reserved.)