The Educational Concerns for Hunger Organization (ECHO) is a non-profit organization that works to teach people around the world about small farming and sustainability. Their global education farm is located in Fort Myers, but they have three other impact centers around the world – Arusha in Tanzania, Ouagadougou in Ethiopia, and Bangkok in Thailand.
(A map of the impact centers around the world)
The bulk of work done on the farm is done by a group of 10 interns. They complete a 14 month internship, where they receive the same stipends that a Peace Corp worker does. The interns are in charge of learning and practicing the principles of sustainability which ECHO teaches. ECHO has partnerships with many like-minded organizations, and is only concerned with small farms (3-5 acres). They don’t work with big agricultural business, but rather with individuals who are struggling to survive. The statistics are staggering – 1:9 people are undernourished in the world, and every 12 seconds a child dies from hunger. They equip these individuals with the agricultural skills to reduce hunger – helping people help themselves. In addition to these skills, ECHO works to help these areas improve their access to food, water and shelter.
(Chocolate from Ethiopia, coffee from Tanzania – and Vic from Indonesia)
One of the main concepts with which ECHO deals is the idea of whether small farming is sustainable. They strongly believe that if a person is given the skills and tools needed to grow his own food, he will be able to sustain himself and his family. In the impact centers, seeds are traded and shared, so that a farmer may have different crops to grow. Interestingly enough, the Food Forest at FGCU is modeled after ECHO’s education farm.
The education farm is covered in flowers, trees, grasses, and different foods. The flowers attract pollinators, which help to spread the spores around the farm. ECHO also receives mulch in barrel loads, which help to make the soil very rich. The mulch layer is ever increasing, and immediately below thickening layer of mulch is a layer of fungi and bacteria which help growth.
(The pollinators are saying “Hey you sexy flower, you”)
One of the techniques ECHO teaches to its farmers is that of rooftop gardening. Since many of the areas don’t have access to a lot of land, ECHO teaches them how to use the materials they already have to grow crops. This involves using everyday items such as tires, burlap sacks, and bricks. Veggies don’t really need soil; they can actually grow healthily without soil.
(Who knew tires and burlap sacks could be used to grow plants?)
(Mr. Rabbit ain’t havin’ it)
ECHO ambassadors teach farmers a technique called “slash and mulch.” This involves planting many different crops at once. Once those crops stop producing, they are taught to slash them and plant new crops. If they keep using the soil it will stay productive. The farmers are to continually use mulch, so that there will be an ever-growing layer of mulch to help the plants continue growing. They also utilize biochar – partly burned wood – as mulch.
ECHO, like many other organizations worldwide, is working to battle the threat that mosquitoes pose to the entire earth population. There are 4 different kinds of diseases transferred by mosquitoes in Southwest Florida – Dengue Fever, Zika, Yellow Fever, and Malaria. If we have all these diseases, just imagine the diseases the rest of the world has. ECHO is working to get mosquito nets to all of its farmers, as well as working with them to get tippy taps for hand washing. The tippy tap can be made from anything that will hold water, which will them have a hole cut in the top and a lever device attached. This saves precious water in areas where there isn’t much.
(Tippy tap me, Vic)
When the farmers collect their water it is often contaminated or dirty in some way. In order to make the water drinkable, it must be sanitized. One of the methods ECHO teaches the farmers is that of sodis – solar disinfection – which involves using the sun to disinfect the water. If we increase the oxygen content in the bottle, the water will disinfect quicker – usually it takes about 5 hours and the water can be drank.
(ECHO practicing sodis)
At the teaching farm, ECHO is utilizing several different adaptive technologies to grow food. These techniques vary from hydroponic, to aquaponic, and aeroponic. In hydroponic growth, the roots of the plants are in the water, and fish are placed in the tank to fertilize the plants further. With this method, the water is replaced every so often. Aquaponic growth involves tubes or horizontal rows for the plants. Their roots are exposed to the water for growth, but the water is not replaced. The aeroponic technique involves suspending plants in the water, with just their roots being covered.
(Oh, hey tilapia!)
From this trip I learned a lot about sustainability and alternative methods for food growth. Americans are so used to having an abundance of food, that we often don’t understand that there are parts of the rest of the world where people are starving. Organizations like ECHO are so important in developing countries, because people aren’t getting the resources they need to live. If these people can be taught how to grow their own food and disinfect their own water, they would essentially be given the tools to survive and thrive. Their lives would be markedly better.
ECHO is growing several different plants (other than fruits and vegetables) that are edible. If the farmers around the world are taught how to grow these plants, then they would have another food source to rely on, if for some reason the fruits and vegetables were to no longer be productive. They have plants at ECHO that can boiled down to make a drink that tastes like root beer, a plant that grows leaves which taste like broccoli, and even a plant that smells like men’s aftershave. The limits are endless!
(Vic calls this the “salad plant” – it tastes like broccoli if you ask me, but what do I know?)
(Boil the leaf, get root beer!)
It’s always been a dream of mine to be able to grow a garden full of fresh food that I would have access to at any time of the day. Unfortunately for me, I’m the black thumb of my family and couldn’t keep a cactus alive if I tried (y’all know how bad that is). All the plants I buy end up dying, even those that are supposed to be “really easy to grow” and all that jazz. It’s sad, really. I think if I had to be relied on to grow my own food, as many people around the world do, I’d have died a long time ago. Well, I may have figured it out, but most likely I would have met an untimely demise. I can’t imagine what it’s like to rely on your own growing abilities to have the food you need to survive. Maybe it’s because I’m so used to being able to go to the grocery store or a restaurant when I’m hungry, or maybe it’s because I’ve never experienced what it’s like to be hungry, but I just can’t imagine how the people that ECHO works were able to live before ECHO came along to help.
I’ve recently started making an effort to eat more locally grown food, and only buy the food that I know I will eat. So many times we (Americans, especially) will buy too much food from some other city, and end up throwing half of it away. So basically we’re killing another state’s land for food that we don’t eat, or let go bad, while there are people in other parts of the world who are dying every 12 seconds from hunger. This thought is disgusting to me. When did it become acceptable to live like this? Why are people in developed countries so okay with living this lifestyle? Answers to these questions may never come to me, but I bet if everyone in developed countries visited developing countries, we’d change our ways very quickly. I know sometimes there is only so much that can be done, but if we at least start by only buying what we need, won’t that help a little?