Have you ever heard of the saying “ give a man a fish and he will eat for a day or teach a man how to fish and he will never go hungry again”?
Well, that’s a little bit of what ECHO farms is all about, but instead of fish, they provide farmers all over the world with the knowledge and techniques they need to become self sufficient.
As described by the organization, ECHO is a Christian non profit organization that equips small scale farmers, missionaries and developmental workers worldwide to combat hunger , malnutrition and poverty. Their vision is to honor God by empowering the undernourished with sustainable hunger solutions.
The organization’s headquarter sits in North Fort Myers and what started as a 5 acres farm is today 57 acres of land that is used for training and demonstration for students, workers and even visitors.
A tour of ECHO farms takes approximately 2- 2:30 hours and it is packed with great information, rare plants and trees from all over the world. You will be accompanied by a tour guide who is knowledgeable and trained in everything that grows in the farm. They are able to name plants and trees and give you tips and tricks on how to grow them. So, if you see something of interest during your tour, don’t be afraid to ask your guide, they are there to share their knowledge with you and are happy to do so.
Our tour guide, Danielle Flood who’s been with ECHO farms for 11 years, explained why spinach is highly marketed as a high iron leafy green when there are other plants containing higher amounts of iron and other vitamins available in nature. She goes on to say that spinach is easier to store and transport and its shelf life is longer compared to other greens but it’s definitely not the only option.
Take the moringa as an example, it contains vitamins A, C, E, Iron, folate, protein as well as antioxidant properties. The seeds of the moringa can also be used to reduce particulate and bacterial contaminated water. What’s even more wonderful about the plant is its ability to be easily cultivated and how well it responds to pruning. Moringa is also used in smoothies as a plant based protein powder.
As you walk the farm you will find many other interesting plants. Take the jaboticaba tree, it is known to thrive in the lands of Brazil but rarely cultivated anywhere else. This tree produces delicious fruits and can be harvest several times of the year. Another one is the tropical tree passion fruit which requires especial soil and tons of care considering Florida isn’t the most suitable location for its growth.
The animals you will see during your trip at ECHO farms are not only residents but also a great asset to the farm. Danielle explained how the pond on the property serve as a habitat for the ducks who defecate in the water, turning the water into a natural fertilizer to all plants and trees surrounding it.
You may also find interesting to know that ECHO has replicated 8 different small farm settings such as rainforest, hot humid low lands, semi arid tropic, tropical highlands , community gardens, urban gardens, tropical monsoon, and appropriate technology. Each setting mimics the vegetable and fruits cultivated in that area as well as farming techniques that are used by farmers from different regions of the world such as Asia, Africa, and Latin American countries.
Rare plants are everywhere at ECHO, amongst them is the shampoo ginger which is a kind of ginger that gives out flowers that when squeezed let out a mild yet wonderful fragrance. It received this name for its ability to make shampoo. Now, if you are a peanut butter lover, you will be excited to know that mother nature has created a delicious fruit that tastes just like it, hence, the name peanut butter fruit.
As our tour arrived to an end, we encountered Dr Martin Price, one of the CEO’s and founder of ECHO farms. “I’ve been here since 1981”, he said. He goes on to mention that ECHO grew by accident and that people would find out about what he was doing at the farm and ask for a tour of it.
Consequently, the farm grow and so did their ability to help more people. ECHO now has expanded not only here in Southwest Florida but all over the globe, with centers in Thailand, Tanzania and Burkina Faso. Each center helps reduce hunger by providing farming families with agricultural resources that improves crop production.
Now if you are interest in starting your own garden, then ECHO farms is most certainly a place you want to visit. The tour will give you an insight on how to grow your own urban garden.
At ECHO you will learn that as long as you want grow your own greens, you will be able to. Regardless of where you live, ECHO has many solutions that can help you become more self sustainable. You’ll learn how to save water from the rain to irrigate your garden, how to use natural resources to feed your animals and other great ideas you can implement in your own home.
Online help is also available for those who live far from a center but still want to benefit from all the knowledge and training ECHO can provide. You can join echo community.org for free and connect with professionals in your region, find practical solutions to farming challenges and even have access to trainings and seminars.
However, if you are in Southwest Florida or just passing by and decide to stop by the wonderful farm where the desire to help others meets the passion for nature, you can find their address and other important information here.
Finally, if you found ECHO’s mission and vision to match yours and would like to make a contribution to help fight world hunger, you can visit echonet.org to make a donation. Also, keep in mind that all tour, nursery and bookstore purchases directly supports their cause. So a trip to ECHO isn't just a simple tour but it is hope for a better world.