Florida's ECHO Farm

As Thanksgiving nears we think about gratitude and our blessings. But did you know over 925 million people who go hungry every day around the world? A sad and tragic fact. But, take heart. There is actually a Florida farm doing something about it.

By Robin Draper November 21, 2013

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As Thanksgiving nears we think about gratitude and our blessings. But, did you know there are 925 million people who go hungry every day? And of that number, nine million of those are children under five, who die each year - many from malnutrition?

The thought is overwhelming. I must tell you that I was distressed, if not depressed upon hearing those figures. A sad and tragic fact.

But that’s before I toured ECHO, a southwest Florida farm that is actually doing something about it. The mission is to end hunger. World hunger.

ECHO, short for Educational Concerns for Hunger Organizations is located in Ft. Myers. It’s a Christian-based non-denominational, non-profit group addressing real hunger issues. Essentially, ECHO prepares individuals to work in third-world countries, strengthening their practical knowledge of sensible and proven agricultural practices for sustainable living, then sending them to places where they can make a real difference.

Specifically, ECHO’s trained workers in turn train farmers, mostly on small farms and often in impoverished nations, to become more productive. Their methods teach techniques for increasing harvests and nutritional diversity.

Now that’s a laudable goal.

Remember the old axiom, “Give a person a fish and he eats for a day, teach a person to fish and he eats for a lifetime?”  Well, in a nutshell, that’s the mission of ECHO.

Being a former Peace Corps volunteer, I am reminded of my experiences years ago when I was sent to a rural village to teach skills and practices through agriculture and health care. It was a life-changing defining moment for this bright-eyed young kid, and has shaped who I am today, bringing me full circle to this Florida organization.

ECHO sits on over 50 acres, and is by far one of the most creative working farms you’re ever likely to visit. Visitors can tour, see demonstrations and techniques useful to both farmers and urban gardeners in developing countries.

Why south Florida? The climate in Ft. Myers is mild and adaptable to many subtropical plants and an ideal classroom for global agriculture.  ECHO even creates environments – hot, humid lowlands, tropical highlands, mimicking systems that range from semi-arid to tropical monsoon in order to test farming techniques.

ECHO’s Global Tour includes experimental gardens, a simulated rural school, creative urban gardens, and even a rustic hillside farm complete with animals, replicating the sparse conditions one would experience overseas.

Through the tour, you’ll wonder if you are in a sub-Sahara village or a big urban city compound. The farm has the feel of a third-world experience that global workers will encounter while working alongside farmers.  Thatched roofed huts, gardens designed and pieced together with basic materials and you’ll see animals in makeshift, but resourceful pens. The innovative environment is anything but modern but the fundamental goal is clear: use what you have, where you are.

It’s all so basic. Just like food.

Also, you’ll see some great innovative techniques for using recycled materials such as tires, plastic bags, pinecones, soda cans and corn cobs – some used for mulching. (Yep, mulch.)

And don’t miss the tree farm filled with wide varieties of citrus, mangoes, avocadoes and plenty of exotic fruits that exist throughout the world.

ECHO’s trainees – whether student interns, missionaries or global workers, help farmers provide for their own families by creating sustainable solutions to world hunger.

But you don’t have to be interested in becoming a world hunger volunteer or missionary to enjoy ECHO.

ECHO is for anyone who loves to garden and grow his or her own food.  The variety of plants, mostly tropical and subtropical, will enhance your knowledge of Florida gardening while you expand your awareness of all the possibilities of Florida agriculture.

Or, you may want to visit just to be inspired. At ECHO they are doing good things for our world. Right here in Florida.

Guided tours are offered to the public. The cost is $10 but children under six years old are free. Visit ECHO’s website or give them a call.  You’ll surely take home some new ideas and vivid memories, but be sure to have enough room in your car to take home a plant from the tropical fruit nursery, or a book, or maybe some seeds from the gift shop.

You’ll take home so much from this tour. But mostly, your heart will be filled with hope. A lot of hope.

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